Making Latkes

I spend my days making great software with the team at OpenSky.com. At the end of the day the value of what we do is not measured by how many tasks we complete, how many lines of code we write, or even how many features we deliver, but by happy customers and successful merchants. On the last day of Hannukah and I found myself making latkes and thinking about the parallels between my experience as a cook and as a software developer.

Latkes are little potato pancakes, fried in oil and served with applesauce and sour cream. They are really tasty hot from the pan, but you can also make latkes ahead of time and reheat them so they can be served all at once. My plan was to start cooking at noon and to be done by 2pm so that I would have time to go for a swim and still arrive on time at the party with my latkes at 4pm.

When I set to work at noon I decided to make the latkes in three batches because my mixing bowl wasn’t big enough to hold all the potatoes at once. This worked out serendipitously because when 2pm rolled around I had only just finished the second batch. I could have soldiered on to make the third batch and arrived at the party tired and grumpy at having missed my swim, but I realized that I had made 24 latkes and that was enough. Since I hadn’t grated the last batch of potatoes I skipped making the third batch completely. Aha! I thought, this is the value of delivering work in smaller batches: it makes it possible to meet my schedule by reducing my scope.

My pan is big enough to fit four latkes at a time and in an effort to maximize throughput I started out frying the latkes four at a time. I quickly learned that when I did that quality suffered for two reasons: 1) the temperature of the oil dropped – the latkes did not cook as quickly and soaked up more oil – the recipes warned of this, but apparently I have to learn by doing, and 2) having only 3 latkes in the pan left me some room to maneuver – I could slide the pancakes around to brown them more evenly. Maybe this is why I only finished two batches instead of three, but I focused on the value of the delivered product: two dozen crispy delicious potato pancakes – they were a hit 🙂

Lots of people contributed to the party – each did their bit, and it all came together on schedule for a great evening.

Happy making!

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