Snap Kitchen fmr Product Lead on Managing Complex Products (Part 2)

What if the product isn’t technology, and many factors are out of your control? As a product manager, how do you handle complex products? What can we learn from the unpredictable on-demand meal delivery sector?

Tech problems could be servers down, people putting features into a product you didn’t expect and computing bugs.

So you talk to your design team or engineers, and you work out a solution. You may not even have to leave your desk. What happens though if the product isn’t software or an app? What can we learn from other experiences?

Consider the food order customer journey:

  1. Happy thinking about food.
  2. Place order, might be worried about cost.
  3. Wait. Hungry.
  4. Happy when delivered.
  5. Most happy when you eat.

What could go wrong? The promise to deliver a satisfying meal is challenging, and when things go wrong the stakes are high – especially when people are hungry.

Tough Estimates For Complex Products

The food journey begins way before it gets to your plate. Demand planning starts like this: next Wednesday, how many people will eat this dish? Now, this is hard to figure out – and mistakes are costly. Not getting enough app downloads is one thing, but throwing away food is another.

Then we have to multiply this unknown for every dish. Furthermore, it’s even more challenging is when it’s a new dish and you have no data to look back to. Also, especially for larger brands, meal planning is considered at the ingredient level. Then you have to take into account what it cooks down to, and a lot of math is involved in making these estimates.

Down On The Farm

Procurement is the first step, and it occurs at the farm level. At Snap Kitchen we were very focused on quality. Plus, if you don’t have a direct relationship with the farm, you might have to rely on company aggregates. A lot of factors come into play: crop yields, changing relationships, food types, etc.  You might even find yourself in a situation where the food is not available due to global shortages.

Once you receive the food, you may actually get potatoes instead of the carrots you ordered. We once even received dog food. When making fresh food each delivery is key, and all of these variables affect how you deliver on the customer promise.

What Product Managers Can Do

For a product manager in any sector, something similar can happen. What are the raw materials you work with? It might be a prototype, new feature, market research or simply ideas. When these arrive, you must look carefully at the quality.

When you expected carrots – and get potatoes instead – it may be due to human relationships, technical skills or a communication problem. How you handle these situations is critical. Correcting mistakes or deciding to go with a different vendor require resource commitment decisions, so choose wisely.

If you get the wrong raw materials, ask yourself, “What can I do with this?” What if it’s dog food? Do I throw it away? Sell it? Give it away? Try to return it? Or save it for later? I think similar questions can be asked when any product manager receives an unanticipated deliverable.   


Click here for Part 1

Click here for Part 3

About the speaker
Sushma Patel Zoellner H-E-B, Sr Director Product (formerly VP Product at Snap Kitchen) Member
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Complex Products: Get The Details Right

When managing complex products, the devil is in the details - evaluating multiple scenarios and managing the effects of uncommon situations.

Snap Kitchen fmr Product Lead on Managing Complex Products

When managing complex products, product teams must focus on building strong brands to stand out from the competition & resonate with users.

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