The Basics of Making the Right Product – Even if It Is Just Falafels

Photo by Anton on Unsplash

Cooking and household chores can be a useful lighthearted analogy for project and change management. And why not — each assumes the existence of objectives, planning, requirements, and the final outcome that delivers expected value.

This story is inspired by falafels. As I’ve never attempted to cook them before, it can be compared to delivering a new product to customers. Each phase of the falafel execution reminds of typical phases in product development.

Falafels may be less complex than other products you will work on, so don’t be too critical. You may need other phases of the development life cycle that I skipped this time, but the basics still stand.

1) Build or buy?

Preliminary research identified some vital knowledge: the best falafels are made of dried and soaked chickpeas, not canned. Due to the overwhelming evidence and detailed scientific explanations of the starch breakdown, I decided to trust the industry knowledge.

So, I did not take the “canned” route and learned how to soak chickpeas — which is so easy that I’m even embarrassed to mention it. You just wash them and soak for 24 hours before cooking.

Creating a product “from scratch” is not necessarily more difficult than using commercially available components. But you will need to do some research, level-headed planning, and preparation. And you will need to adjust your sourcing strategies.

2) Technology base

Soaked chickpeas need to be ground to a soft consistency with all other ingredients. This is the magic part where the starches break down, which is needed for the falafel ball to hold its shape and not fall apart. To do this, my recipe calls for a high-power food processor.

I attempted to use my puny food processor as part of the experiment and gave up. Not enough power. The big and loud blender did a better job, but I had to process in batches and do a lot of mixing of the layers with a big wooden fork.

It was a slow process. A few errant peas escaped grinding and had to be removed by a fork. If I really want to become a pro-falafel-maker, I might need to invest in a new appliance… Not sure how long would it take to break even on that?

Be realistic about the technology (equipment, systems) that the new product will require. Do not assume that you will be able to “wing it”. Cost/benefit analysis must be done. You may have to invest in new technology or end up making an inferior product with what you have. Or, if new technology is costs prohibitive, you may need a different solution, or a different product.

3) The process quality

A few errant peas escaped from the blender unscathed — the defects… The first experiment has shown me the weak points in the process.

If I want to make this product regularly, I should measure my defect rate as the technology is tweaked, and work on reducing the deviations in the manufacturing process. Or, perhaps, these defects point out that my blender (i.e. my technology base) is insufficient.

As I dig out the peas with a long fork, I realize that I need a better method of dealing with the manufacturing defects, at least until I can enhance my technology base or come up with a better engineering solution.

Expect defects in any new process. Learn to detect, measure, and analyze the ways to reduce the defect rate. Defect management will be an integral part of your new product. And if you did not find any defects, maybe you weren’t looking hard enough?

4) The minimum viable product

The secret of the falafel taste is in the herbs. They must be fragrant and fresh. Parsley and cilantro give the home-made falafel the flavor and a green tint which you will not find in the frozen-foods commercial version.

The recipe called for A LOT of herbs, and at first, I thought — really? Isn’t that an overkill? That’s way too much green taste. However, I followed the recipe and added the right amounts of everything — cilantro, parsley, garlic, cumin, and coriander. The resulting flavor was fantastic, so the herbs were not just a nice-to-have.

While you may experiment with some product features, you need to decide what is non-negotiable and mandatory for a minimum viable and good quality product. If your first products are seriously lacking in an important feature (such as flavor), you may irreparably damage your product’s reputation. In my case, my kids might decide that they hate falafels and will never want to try one again.

5) The solution

There are two main cooking methods — baking (healthier) and frying (crunchier and softer inside). I research these solution options extensively. I read about the pros and cons. The healthier option, of course! But how much healthier is it?

I can’t decide which one to go with. In the end, I divide the falafel mix into halves and experiment. Half of the falafels go into the oven and the other half — into the frying pan. We will do a blind test at dinner.

You may need to conduct a pilot or build a proof of concept before choosing the optimal solution. With all the design considerations and customer expectations, the number of variables may be so high that a theoretical exercise will not help you make the right decision. You may just have to try it out.

6) User acceptance testing

I announce the tasting and collect the votes. Confession — I’ve already tried both and know which one I prefer, but I stay silent to keep the experiment pure. The resulting votes go overwhelmingly towards the less healthy — fried option.

I wholeheartedly agree. Perhaps there is some other secret to baking falafels that I have not discovered, but the fried ones are crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, and retained more flavor. A definite winner of the customer votes.

The success of the product depends on your customers. Regardless of what you believe the product’s benefits and winning features are, your customers will decide. When designing a product, build a feedback mechanism upfront, and keep measuring customer satisfaction. Otherwise, you may end up with unsold products on your hands — just like I will have to eat the baked falafels as I am feeling sorry for them.

falafel photos - the winner and the other solution

If you liked this story, you may also like:

My Lasagna Is Already Perfect, or We’ve Always Done It This Way

How is Baking Macaroons Like a Software Project?

How to Execute Well: Learning From Chocolate Bites

Contact Yulia for individual coaching, speaking, or helping your organization mature its business analysis function.


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