What Can Chefs teach Product Managers on Productivity?

Chefs teach product managers on productivity

The celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay knows exactly what he wants from his team, how to get it done, and how to leave his customers coming back for more. Even if that translates into leaving his contestants or his team scampering around apprehensively!

You can learn a lot from people who spend a lot of time serving others, especially a profession where people are masters of planning, processing, and even navigating change. How to be productive in a world of total chaos?

If you start from top-notch restaurants, you can easily comprehend that everything starts right from the top. It seems like every single person has productive things to do. In the epitome of a visionary kitchen, there lies a leader who is a coach and an empowerment guru that syncs every detail of the work. These folks are who we call Chefs. From the perfect choice of steak cut to attaining that sublime searing temperature, to sprinkling just the optimal amount of seasoning and butters, to knowing which herbs to create a lavish garnish with, and perfecting the art of procuring the creamiest, airiest mashed potatoes, while a horde of customers wait on edge outside, these professionals can teach a lot to project managers on how to be more productive!

Since they constantly have to work in a high-pressure, time-sensitive environment, Chefs give us much reason to learn as much as we can from them and apply that to our businesses.

While all the tossing and flambéing and sautéing and chopping seem like a breeze when delivered by such deft hands, being a Chef is stressful and not a one-man show. You have to manage a team that needs to be efficient and has a propensity to beat the austere ticket times. A slight delay can lead to bad reviews, grumpy customers, and a tirade of accusations on social media.

Just like project managers who have the luxury of online task management tool and a to-do list at their disposal, Chefs on the other hand, have to go solely by their own time-management skill sets. This is why there are golden rules when it comes to being a Chef and how to be productive to create those mouth-watering savory cuisines and plate them sumptuously, all before customers could go from J toL.

Project managers can take inspiration from Chefs and apply them into their day-to-day projects. Just gear-up & learn the habits of these top-notch Chefs.

1. Prepare everything in advance

Mise en place is a French culinary phrase which literally translates into “putting in place” or “everything in its place.” In professional kitchens, this is often used to refer to organizing and arranging ingredients before you even start cooking. This decreases your margin of error and ensures that the food is prepared ‘just-in-time’.

In his book “Kitchen Confidential”, Anthony Bourdain writes, “‘Mise en place’ is the religion of all good line cooks. As a cook, your station, and its condition, its state of readiness, is an extension of your nervous system. The universe is in order when your station is set up the way you like it: You know where to find everything with your eyes closed. Everything you need during the course of the shift is at the ready at arm’s reach. Your defenses are deployed.”

For instance, if you want to put the onions and tomatoes first in the pan, you need to keep them in a container right next to your cooking station. Next, go capers and olives. Finally, the salmon goes into the third container. Sauce and condiments come last.

Even though most of us do not work in a kitchen and don’t have to contend with ingredients that need to be measured, prepped, collected, chopped, broiled, or sautéed, yet deliberately taking the time out to plan before we begin and comprehending the value of applying a similar approach is arguably greater! For project managers, the system above ensures that everything turns out well, whether you’re working on one project or 10. Once the resources and items are at arm’s length you can amplify the processes to handle huge projects. You can start today by organizing your desk based on the things that you reach out for the most. It could get as methodical as putting your pen back in the same spot day after day. Even if you are blindfolded, you should know where you put that notepad you put the day before.

2. Clean-up as soon as you finish

Normally kitchens are messy places. This is why you need to clean as you move on to the next task. This will ensure that the kitchen stays clean and there is no shortage of bowls when preparing the food. If you have ever played the game “overcooked”, you must be acquainted with jittery nerves and a sinking heart as your food is on the verge of burning and it suddenly dawns on you that you missed out on washing the dishes or due to a messy workstation, you need to run up to a far corner to chop those tomatoes while the customers grow ever restless!

According to Lipuma, an instructor at the CIA, “Oh my God! If you don’t clean as you go it is a mess! And that’s another thing you people at home could do: Because isn’t the worst thing at the end of a successful dinner party doing a whole bunch of dishes? Wouldn’t you rather break them all and buy new ones? It actually saves time if you clean as you go. It makes life so much easier.”

In offices, there are people who drink Coffee and leave their cups on their desks. A messy desk means a messy mind which is unconducive to the environment. While some people wait for multiple items to gather before they dispose of them off to the garbage, it is best to clean the desk as soon as the first item lands empty on the desk.

On the other hand, if a chef drinks a cup of Coffee, I am sure they would remember to dispose of with the utensils on the go. Leaving things lying around aimlessly on the table will only clutter your vision and steal your focus away from the important things at hand. This is why chefs prefer to clean things up as they go forward with their work.

3. Automate Decisions

What brings efficiency in a Chefs work in the simplicity of questions they ask themselves? Even though the questions demand a simple Yes or No. To put more salt or less? Are the onions perfectly browned? Is it time to whisk in the flour? Is the steak medium rare yet?

During the cooking process, chefs might ask these questions again and again but if the chef ignores or miscalculates even one time, it will mean the doom of the entire palate. Most professional chefs have established a habit of limiting the number of questions they ask themselves.  There is no time to second-guess an input because everything that is happening is in real-time and even a single input can affect the output.

Same goes for project managers. But, the good thing about project managers is that they can automate their tasks with effective online task management tools.

4. The Feedback loop

If you imagine a chef, what comes to your mind? A man donning a white peaked hat with a wooden spoon in hand. It is not just a cliché, but chefs actually are notorious for tasting their food every couple of minutes. And this lets them give their own feedback on the taste and quality of their concoctions.

This feedback loop is a continuous part of the cooking process. Without tasting the food, chefs cannot predict if it is well seasoned or if the gravy is well balanced. Based on this feedback, the chef might make tweaks accordingly until a harmony of flavors and just the right texture and consistency are achieved.

As the outcome changes, the chef makes the necessary adjustments based on his opinion.  He then makes changes to input – the food – in order to change the output – the flavor or the final dish.

Just as a chef cannot afford the luxury of waiting for the final dish to act on the feedback loop, a project manager cannot wait for days, weeks, and even months to iterate the project when he finds something off.  A small delay in time can turn off customers, and in the same way, a project manager needs to make the necessary changes in the project on the go in order to complete the project on-time and within the set budget. The earlier slip-ups are discovered, the easier it will be to revert back to them before they wreak more havoc, in comparison with when the project is near completion.

5. Garnishing in the end

The job of a chef doesn’t end until the food has been laid out in front of the critics to give their get-go. As project managers, our goal seems to end as soon as we hand over the finished product to the customer. We assume that the final presentation or the launch of the product is where we call it a day.

On the contrary, an expert chef knows that the job is only considered done when the customer has left happy with a smile on their lips, the dishes have been dealt with, the kitchen has been wiped clean, the pans are rinsed, knives are sharpened, and the cutting boards have been oiled for the next day. Just because you can see the final product – the plate – delivered, it doesn’t mean that your job is done.

Food is served

Who knew that chefs could bring so much value by extracting golden nuggets of wisdom from their life? Sure, they are masters of their craft, but they are also leaders, tacticians, and wonderful teachers. Heed these life lessons to heart and learn to live with a greater insight and abundance.