Product Management: Rules of The Kitchen

I’m sure that you’ve heard a lot of interesting stories about getting started in product management. In other words, we all get into the profession from a variety of angles. However, I’m pretty confident that my entry point into becoming a product manager will seem especially unique. First, I majored in East Asian Studies at Harvard – which as you can imagine doesn’t focus on product management skills. After graduating, I took my personal passion for cooking and became a line cook at top restaurants in Washington, D.C.

As you can imagine, my parents were a bit skeptical about me using my hard-earned Harvard degree to work in a restaurant. However, it represented the best outlet for me to pursue a passion that I’ve had for a long time. For one, there’s something very physically satisfying about chopping vegetables and prepping meals. However, there are plenty of parallels between product management and how a kitchen operates at maximum capacity.

Simply put, if you can survive in a restaurant – you can pretty much make it anywhere.

Most importantly, there’s a deep commitment to hospitality and creating a well-orchestrated experience. When I think about product management, these are essential elements to running an effective team and making products that provide a memorable experience for users. For example, you need to be 100 percent ready to go before customers come in. From your garnishes and sauces to the placement of silverware, everything needs to be in place to deliver a great experience.

At its core, product management is all about optimizing processes for your team and customers to build value. During my time in restaurants, I developed a framework for how to put these skills to good use. In my current role at SpotHero, I’m applying these competencies every day to improve our product. For example, I always look for ways to collaborate with my team to figure out ways in which we can improve or focus on areas that have been going well.

Ultimately, the lessons I learned in restaurants were all about process improvement. Just like I did when I was in the kitchen, I’ve continued to utilize these skills in my product management career. Simply put, it’s just a change in scenery.

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About the speaker
Jenny Wanger SpotHero, Sr. Product Manager Member

Jenny Wanger is the Sr. Product Manager at SpotHero - where she managed a complete app/website redesign and continues to optimize the parking experience for drivers around the world. Prior to joining SpotHero, she worked on digital products at Arity - and also managed events for the National Charter Alliance for Public Schools. In addition, Jenny worked in several restaurants as a line cook - which she credits for instilling valuable skills that have served her well in becoming a product manager. Jenny holds an MBA from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and currently lives in Chicago.