Do It Your Way: Are You a Recipe Person?

I was making dinner the other night; salmon fillets wrapped in parma ham, steamed in the oven with a bit of wine and broth, with a bashed-up Vivaldi potatoes in a wasabi mayo dressing and some nice green beans. I popped the salmon in the oven hoping it would turn out right, hoping the parma ham would give the salmon flavour and guestimating the cooking time.

While pottering around the kitchen, I was thinking: I don’t think I’ve ever cooked the same thing twice in the same way. Every time, I tweak, adapt or change based on what’s in the fridge, the mood I’m in or the seasonal produce available. In my opinion, recipes are a great way to get inspiration, little else. My mom, on the other hand, always had a great little handwritten recipe book – covered in splatters from teaching us to make pancake mix – and usually followed recipes closely.

The same applies to business; Why do some of us love clear, repeatable processes while others prefer to try something new every time? Rationality versus instinct. Structure versus winging it. One’s not better than the other, necessarily. My mom probably ended up with a lot less weird-tasting dinners than I did, that’s for sure.

Personally, I’m certainly leaning towards the “creative thinking” end of the scale. I have processes and skeleton structures for projects I manage yet no two ever turn out the same. I’d be a terrible analytical chemist, air traffic controller or software tester but for what I do, it’s great; It allows me to nurture that bit of magic (wow, that sounds cheesy…) that’s unique to every new project.

I’m curious whether anyone consciously chooses to swing one way or the other, or whether we’re just made a certain way. What’s your style? What excites you enough to drop all normal procedures and just go for instinct?

Sushi & business have more in common than you might think

A few months ago, we popped by Bluewater shopping centre in Kent to get my MacBook fixed and, being the total sushi addicts that we are, we couldn’t resist the detour by Yo Sushi when lunchtime rolled around. Even though I’d heard their sushi wasn’t so hot, nothing else was even an option.

While I’d heard many times about their unique conveyor belt concept, I spent most of lunch mesmerised by the masterpiece of focus, efficiency and simplicity before my eyes. Now I’m not here to debate the quality of the food served (though I was quite pleased with it, for shopping centre food) but I wanted to talk about Yo Sushi as a process.

1. Clear focus

From the moment you find yourself in the vicinity, your attention is directed to the food. The entire operation is focused on providing a solution to a single problem, and doing it well – it gets food into my belly quickly by allowing self-service. The fresh food moves smoothly around the conveyor belt in a never-ending conga line, getting refilled constantly by the hard-working staff. Instead of fussing over complicated menus, making the clientele wait for a waiter to come take your order, they let you dig right in. Just what you want in a shopping centre.

This translates into online projects very easily; you need to focus on solving a single problem and doing it well, rather than attempting to offer every single feature to do every newfangled thing everyone else wants to do. In a weird way, it’s letting them hit the kickass threshold quickly!

2. Simplicity

The menu is simple, and the dishes are all presented in a very visual way. You can literally match a small plate circulating on the conveyor belt just by looking at the printed menu for something that looks identical.

Design on location is also very simple. In Bluewater, due to their position, there are no walls to be decorated. The tables, bars and seats are all beige, taupe or brushed silver, with the only splashes of colour provided by the bright plates in circulation. The practical self-service format allows the waiting staff to focus on refilling drinks, clearing the tables and proving hot dishes as required, leaving customers to do 75% of the work themselves.

How can we learn from this and provide users with self-service? Get Satisfaction is a fantastic example of people-powered support; the community can answer a number of questions amongst itself, taking pressure off small teams. High quality, regularly updated FAQs for the more traditional sites also benefit everyone. But first and foremost, keeping things simple and fuss-free will make for a whole lot less questions!

3. Efficiency

The Yo Sushi kitchen works like a well-oiled machine. There’s not a single piece of clutter on the counters where food is made, cooking areas are thought out and positioned in a logical order; from the hot kitchen out of sight to the sushi counters in immediate reach of the conveyor belt.

Every feature in your product should be there for a reason, not just because the marketing manager’s wife thinks it looks good (unless she’s your target market). Sometimes you have to be ruthless to be efficient.

Whether you use GTD, some fancy online project management system or a piece of paper and a pencil to create your product roadmap, the key is not to let the tools get in the way of the work at hand. This applies to physical clutter as well as mental clutter, whether in the form of unsettled arguments or unspoken worries.

So why not sit down with a cup of green tea, take a moment to get some clarity and see where you can simplify your processes to help your users feel as good about using your product as I do after choosing to have sushi instead of a greasy burger meal.

As a complete aside, I must tip my hat to taptaptap for the awesome design of their site, entirely centered on sushi.

[Disclaimer: Yo Sushi did not pay me for this post, but if they so wish, they’re very welcome to send me lots and lots of food vouchers.]