Why Product Management is More Like Baking than Cooking

I’ve been organizing Product Management School for nextNY and I realized something today…  A lot of new entrepreneurs and startup people think product management is something akin to cooking.  Some people have a knack for it—and “real” cooks don’t follow recipes.  They wing it, making adjustments as they go along to taste.  If something is bland, they can spice it up midway.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t really work for a startup where real resources are being committed and time (and money) is running out.  That makes it a lot more like baking, because you can’t really adjust a cake or cookies midway through.  Once that crust begins to harden, there’s no mixing anything into them without throwing out the whole batch.

Baking is a craft.  It’s a carefully followed system—a practice repeated regularly to try and achieve perfection.  It’s fine to be a creative person when you’re coming up with a recipe, but when you’re executing on one, it’s about exact attention to detail.  Take things out too early, and something will collapse or the eggs won’t blend or the sugar won’t melt, etc.  It’s about the science of measurement and iteration versus the art of feature adding.  You don’t add features like Bob Ross’s happy little trees—you measure them out in teaspoons like vanilla extract.  Too much of it and your website will taste terrible or collapse under its own weight. 

It’s an important distinction.  Anyone can just throw veggies in a pan, and some chicken, and say they’re cooking.  Not everyone can just start out baking—and actually create something successfully.  Baking, like product management, takes practice and it’s a real discipline that deserves respect.  The more you practice both, and make sure you use the right tools—the better you’ll become.  Measurement tools, in particular, are not to be ignored.