Moving past the four-legged stool. Introducing the product, research, design, and engineering paella

Lara Cavezza
Jul 23, 2019 · 6 min read

As designers, we talk often about the three- or four-legged stool. Each leg represents one of our product team functions: product, research, design, and engineering (PRDE). And it’s no secret that, in many companies, designers and researchers struggle to be seen as thought partners to our product and engineering peers. Yet, we continue to use the analogy of the stool, which doesn’t explain how we all work together, what value we each bring to the table, and the process for successfully reaching our goals.

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The stool, besides being a really uncomfortable seating option, conjures imagery of working in silos. It implies that we are evenly involved throughout the entire process, and it doesn’t make it clear how we collaborate. The vagueness of the metaphor makes it hard to describe the value that we bring, or what different roles contribute at different times throughout the process.

At ezCater, when we began to think about our process for working together as a team, we decided that the stool didn’t cut it. Given our love of all things food, we realized that the best way to describe the process of PRDE collaboration is with a recipe. The recipe has to have ingredients that each have equal importance in the dish. The dish would be bland and unsuccessful were it to lack any one of the ingredients. It also has to be a recipe that represents a similar process to how we work, with certain ingredients coming in and out of the pan to add to the richness of the dish as it cooks.

I’d like to introduce you to the PRDE paella. We start with a problem to solve (or, in this case, we’re just hungry). Each function on our team brings a different ingredient to the table. Then we start cooking. Let’s dive into the recipe that describes how we work together to get to the best solution:

  1. Olive oil: Product Managers
  2. Spices: Researchers
  3. Rice: Designers
  4. Broth: Engineers

You may have noticed that I left out a few ingredients, like seafood. The seafood is the data and it adds such an important flavor to our process. Without it, we still have a paella, but it’s not as rich of a meal. At ezCater, we’re data aware, and use data throughout the entire process to ensure that we’re solving the right problem and landing on the best solution.

Plus, while seafood paella is undoubtedly the best kind, you can swap in different proteins to your liking. Similarly, we can use different types of data to get to the best possible experience. I’ll save this for another article.

1. Begin by heating up the pan. The pan represents our collaborative environment. At the start of any project, we heat up the team by discussing open questions, recognizing constraints, and aligning on metrics for success.

2. Once your pan is hot, the product managers add the olive oil. Every paella starts with the olive oil, an incredibly important part of the cooking process. It ensures that nothing gets stuck and all goes smoothly. It adds flavor throughout the entire cooking process.

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Photo by Roberta Sorge on Unsplash

Product managers drizzle olive oil throughout the process, similar to how the product manager is heavily involved from start to finish of any product development project. They determine the roadmap for the team and help to prioritize problems and features.

3. Next, research adds spices like garlic. At the beginning of the product development process, during the discovery phase, researchers learn about the customers’ needs, motivations, and pain points. Different flavors will get sprinkled in throughout the process and add to the richness of the final dish.

It’s important to use the right spices throughout the process, because, without them, it wouldn’t be a paella (instead, it would just be some other, inferior, rice dish). Our researchers are experts in choosing the most effective methodologies to help define problems and collect data to iterate towards the right solution.

4. Next, design adds the rice. Be sure to use a super absorbent rice (like bomba), because we want it to start absorbing the flavors from the oil and spices right away. The more flavor it absorbs early on, the more delicious the outcome. At ezCater, we believe that designers should be involved in the process from the beginning. If we fully understand the business and user needs, we can design a more effective solutions and absorb all that tasty goodness along the way.

The rice starts toasting (in product development, designers begin to try different solutions), and researchers add more spices at this time (testing out some of these possible concepts), like saffron and sweet paprika, as we work to refine the flavors of our dish.

Product managers, don’t forget to drizzle in more olive oil to ensure that nothing gets stuck. By making sure that things are proceeding smoothly and staying involved throughout the entire process, product managers ensure that we’re solving the right business problem and engage stakeholders. They work to avoid scope creep, because we don’t want our dish to get overcooked.

5. Engineers start adding the broth. The broth is what cooks the rice. It makes the whole paella come together and adds its own flavor.

Timing is important when making a paella. You’ll want to cook the rice for long enough in the broth so that it begins to add a toasty layer at the bottom (also known as the socarrat) but not so long that it burns. Similarly, engineers work with design and product to determine how long a project will take, how feasible it is, and what the right sized solution will be in order to get to the right experience.

Then, just like the broth cooks the rice, engineers build out features, make trade-offs, and ensure code quality and quantity throughout their process.

6. Researchers, add salt to taste. This spice represents the continued analysis of what we’ve built to help us learn about the success of our solution and determine next steps, making sure we can measure the impact of our work once it all comes together

7. Let it simmer until the dish is a tasty paella.

Remember, there are many possible ways to make a paella. We can turn up the heat and shorten the cook time if we need to. Similarly, for differently-sized projects, we change our speed or work towards varying levels of quality. And, if it’s not quite right this time around, we can iterate on our “recipe” until we get to the best solution.

Despite possible variations, each ingredient plays a different role in our paella recipe. To be a true paella, we always need the olive oil, spices, rice, and broth. These ingredients come in at different points and serve different purposes (and, without design and research, it would just be an oily broth). This is the same for product, design, research, and engineering. We each add our own flavor, and, with all the ingredients, we can make an amazing meal.

ezCater Design

Views from ezCater’s Design Team

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