Burnt, can a star chef act agile?

It is challenging to explain agile or lean methods to customers or outsiders. In the agile environment, many examples and metaphors from software development dominate. In lean, many examples are from industrial production, especially Toyota.


In the movie Burnt, the main character John Adam went through an agile transformation. John Adam is a talented chef, one of the best star chefs in London. John Adam is superior to many; he lets his environment feel that he is the star. He often behaves like a prima donna, yet he has an Achilles heel. His perfection drives him to madness, which ends in drugs or wild outbursts. Still, John has a kind side, and his talent impresses his co-workers and competitors.

The story shows John's transformation into a three-star chef. John is obsessed with the third star. He was considered one of the most extraordinary young talents in Paris. As a young wild rockstar, he destroyed his career. Years after the incident in Paris, John tries to start over in London.

Minimum viable product (MVP)

Wikipedia defines an MVP as a product version with just enough features to be usable by early customers [1]. John tries to recruit Helen for his new restaurant. Helen is considered one of the best souciers in London. The conversation takes place in a burger restaurant. They talk about Hamburgers as good food. The star cook John find burgers more than food. To make a good burger, it needs quality. Burgers have a long history of cooking.

In Software development, it can mean, not every solution or prototype has to be a software cathedral. A Product Owner or Software Architect knows which parts of the system have to be good for the business's long run. John has some lean thinking in his behavior. He does not condemn cheaper solutions for other markets.

Agile Transformation of the Star Chef

As John creates the new menu and the new restaurant, he acts as a hierarchical Manager. He tries to manage every small thing in the kitchen. If co-workers make failures, John gets outburst and punishes the team members. The young talent team members are very frustrated, but they stay for the experience. In one outburst, he fired Helen, the essential team member. Helen comes back, and the processes in the restaurant stabilize from day today.

Turning Point

The turning point in the movie is a failed attempt to get the third star. The whole restaurant prepares for a random review by Michelin. One day, a waitress notices special guests. The chef falls into his perfection and is the stress situation unkind to his team. An employee from his time in Paris sabotages the menu. It is revenge for the incident in Paris. John goes into a wild outburst that threatens the existence of the business. There were no auditors from Michelin, only ordinary guests.

After the breakdown due to the alleged star audit, John begins to change. He changes his behavior from a controller to a coach. Every team member is responsible for his work by himself. The team develops a ritual of the daily lunch. Without a control manager, the cooking process runs very well and with lower failures. At the end of the movie, auditors from Michelin visited the restaurant. John does not change the routine and discipline of the process. The restaurant wins the next star.


In this example are many elements of agile methods like Scrum. The daily lunch is the Daily Scrum. A daily scrum has not the purpose of giving some team members some commands. It is a ritual to see how the process or product development is going on. Team members are aware of problems in the project.

The Role of John as a chef can discussed very profoundly. Is he a Scrum Master or a mix from Scrum Master and Technical Lead or a Product Owner? Or the restaurant boos who talks with the customer, the Product Owner? As the star chef, most team members are intimidated by his talent. In the movie, Helen is the only one who is courageous and brings new concepts and ideas to the restaurant.

For software development, it can mean that a Software Architect is not the best Scrum Master. Sometimes a project has budget problems, and technical leads have the most agile training or experiences. The metaphor of the bus factor of a team member is also essential for an agile method.

A chef repeats daily the dishes from the menu. Chefs rarely improvise their products. Software developers solve problems and build software that did not exist in that capacity before. They are more like product development than production. However, agile methods and software craftmanship show that routine and discipline are essential.

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