Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Business Fables - The Spaghetti chefs

Once upon a time there were three chefs in a kitchen, all making spaghetti.

The first chef, Jane, was a meticulous planner, and spent nearly two hours reading the recipe book and gathering the right ingredients.  She meticulously took measurements throughout the cooking process and made corrections due to a multitude of factors - altitude, temperature, time etc.  She knew exactly when the pasta would be done, and at the appointed time took it out and served it for the customer.

The second Chef, Wayne, did some preparation based on his experience in cooking spaghetti, and  near then end of the estimated time he took some spaghetti out and threw it against the wall to see if it was done.  The first two pieces were not done, but the third stuck to the wall, telling him it was "al dente", and ready to serve to the customer.

The last chef, Charles, did no preparation at all, and wasn't sure exactly how long the spaghetti would take, so he had three separate pots boiling, all with different amounts and types of spaghetti, and regularly took some out of each and flung it against the wall.  The difficulty was that Charles couldn't actually tell what was sticking, due to all the overlapping spaghetti, and his focus being split between all the different pots.  In the end he ran  out of time and just served up what he had - three different types of spaghetti in one bowl, all at various stages of being cooked.

Can you guess which one worked out for the customer?  That's right - Wayne was able to serve the best spaghetti, in the shortest time, at the lowest cost.  Wayne knew that once he did the initial planning, there were so many different factors at play in the kitchen, the best thing to do what test the spaghetti every few minutes and serve it when it stuck to the wall.

Jane took far too long, the customer was getting annoyed because of the delay, and when the pasta was finally served, it wasn't perfect even though Jane thought she had planned for the perfect outcome. She wasn't able to serve many customers due to the time she took to prepare the spaghetti each time.

Charles came out the worst because the customer didn't really get what he wanted, none of the spaghetti was done, and Charles wasted lots of materials and took up too much kitchen space.

When introducing a new product, or even trying a new marketing campaign, many people use the term "Throwing it against the wall and seeing what sticks" as a negative i.e. sloppy and lacking in planning and preparation, but it's exactly what needs to be done to get the best outcome each time.

Be just like Wayne- do enough planning and have a feedback loop to ensure that you are on the right path.  For a new product introduction this is a prototype product used to engage development customers, leading to a minimum viable product and (hopefully) rapid customer adoption.  And if the spaghetti doesn't stick, then throw out the whole batch and start again.

The opposite of the MVP is what Charles did - not really knowing what would come out and unable to focus on creating a single spaghetti that the customer wanted - if you split your focus between different approaches it's impossible to discover which one (if any is working).

So be like a great chef - do the required planning, but start cooking quickly and get feedback to ensure that your dish is ready for the customer.


  1. Hi Phil,

    Great post mate! About to start my Pasta Slinging Process to create my Product Prototype!


  2. Phil,

    Nice and clear analogy. Another point for the agile approach of developing/testing new ideas. It is easy to spend to so much time in detail leading to analysis paralysis. Technical people with the ability to understand a great deal of information can spend to much time in the analysis paralysis phase. Too much info does not exactly result in a better decision or even any decision.