I recently moved house. As a moving present I bought myself a slow cooker. This device is amazing, it's really broadened my horizons as far as cooking food goes. So, to celebrate my new-found mad kitchen skills, I decided to invite some friends around for a meal. Maybe it's my stupid brain not being able to turn off from work, but the experience taught me some lessons that I'm bringing into my role as a Product Owner at Hostelworld.

Calculated risks with the resources available

I'm still getting to grips with this whole "adulting" thing, but I really wanted to nail this dinner, so I put some careful thought into it. It was to be 3 courses - a starter, main and dessert.

I wanted to try out new things, but didn't want to blow the whole dinner by messing something up. So, I approached it how I approach building products - assessing what resources I have available, and taking calculated risks to put them together in a way that I hoped would work out, and gauge the results.

In this case, my resources included a slow cooker, the knowledge that I knew how to make an amazing slow cooked hoisin duck (I'd been practicing), and that I knew my friends and what they'd like (or at least so I thought).

What they like is cheap knock-off desserts. For about a decade we didn't eat Cornettos, no, we ate "Generic cone shaped iced desserts". That's not an exaggeration - we literally used that exact phrase - it began as a copyright joke and just kinda stuck!

So, knowing that I'd have the dessert in the bag, I was confident that I could take a risk or two with the first two courses, since we'd be ending on a high with some cheap ice cream.

The mains was to be the slow cooked hoisin duck - but this time I'd try it with noodles instead of the rice I made last time - a small risk, but a risk nonetheless.

The biggest risk I took was with the starters. I decided to get a little crazy with it. I like black pudding, and a friend recently hosted a dinner where he served stuffed roasted peppers. A plan formed in my head.

After some Googling for some extra inspiration, I settled on what would be the most controversial dish of the evening - roasted red peppers stuffed with black pudding and diced, caramelised apple, topped with grilled halloumi cheese.

I was happy with this approach, the riskiest dish was first, and I knew that the last dish was the least risky of all, hopefully leaving my guests with a fond memory of the evening, even if I screwed up the starter!

The Results

I had 4 guests. Here's how each course did

  • Starter: 2 of the 4 guests liked it
  • Main: 3 of the 4 guests liked it
  • Dessert: 4 of the 4 guests liked it

The starter didn't go down particularly well, but I know now for next time that it needs a LOT more cheese (you can never have too much cheese!)

Overall though, I'd call that a successful evening. So successful in fact, that we all decided to make it a regular thing, with my brother Brian up next to the plate. I knew the generic ice creams would smooth over any mishaps!

How it reminds me of product development

The thing about food is, no two people are the same. There are foods that will get some people's mouths watering, and other people reeling in disgust - brussel sprouts, Marmite, pineapple on pizza, (for the record - I'm PRO pineapple on pizza - cue the hate mail).

What I sometimes struggle to remember though, is that not everyone experiences things the same way I do. This is true for software as well as food.

The experience reminded me that assumptions need to be tested, and that it's ok to take calculated risks in order to get some good feedback.

And if all else fails, give your users cheap ice cream. :)

Cover photo credit: Photo by Zach Reiner on Unsplash