2 min read

Why is a Product Manager like a Head Chef?

Today, a product manager asked me: How much time should I spend on the current sprint vs future features? Good question. A better one is…
Why is a Product Manager like a Head Chef?
Photo by Fabrizio Magoni on Unsplash

Today, a product manager asked me: How much time should I spend on the current sprint vs future features? Good question. A better one is, what should I be doing when the current sprint is under-way? Should I be so swamped that I don’t have time to contemplate the next 3 sprints?

Imagine for a moment that you’re the chef de cuisine, or head chef, of a restaurant. You have designed the recipes, the team is trained on the menu, and the restaurant is open for dinner service. Now, how much time should you spend in the kitchen? The answer: none. Head chefs of well run restaurants are always standing at “the pass.” The pass is the place where finished dishes are passed from the kitchen to the waiting staff to be served. The head chef is quality checking to make sure the finished product meets the agreed standard before hitting the customer’s table, and to send anything back that doesn’t qualify. You can identify this person by the cloth they’re holding to wipe the rim of any less than perfect plate.

In this way, the product manager is like a head chef. The recipes you designed is your spec, the team is trained on the “menu” during your spec hand-off meeting, and the restaurant, or your sprint, is open. You product is being produced, and it’s your job to make sure what hits customer’s hands is of the quality specified. Product managers that find themselves re-writing recipes on the fly have failed to prepare adequately. Sure, questions come up during implementation, but 99% of those questions should be small trade-offs handle-able by the designer. Major implementation hiccups should have been contemplated prior to sprint start.

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“Being Agile doesn’t mean changing the recipes on the fly while tonight’s dinner service is in progress. It means having the systems in place to respond to changing customer tastes rapidly. It means creating and serving an entirely different menu next week, if that’s what it takes to stay relevant.”
Photo by Monty Rakusen. At Scratch Bar and Restaurant, where they have no servers. https://www.foodtribute.com/621/621/

So to answer the original question of how much time a product manager should spend on current sprint vs future features, the answer is 5% vs 95%. By the way, once the excellent chef de cuisine has spent some time at the pass, they often circulate out to the tables to meet some diners, all the while imaging the next menu in their head.


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