White meat, dark meat, you just can’t lose.

Adam Sandler

The traditional Thanksgiving feast can be an enjoyable gathering filled with sharing of stories, eating good food, and relaxation. But frequently it’s not — especially for the hosts.

Today we’ll explore strategy for hosting a Thanksgiving get-together that everyone enjoys. There will be not-so-thinly-veiled connections to how and why technology teams provide services throughout.

Imagine a scenario where Simon Wardley has tea with a friend who is a hosting Thanksgiving event. The friend shares that they are stressed about hosting Thanksgiving again. It’s a lot of work and last year they didn’t even get to spend much time with guests and family. They were too busy preparing, serving, and cleaning-up after the meal. Simon might say, “oh, how about we map this out, starting with what you did last year.”

The friend starts with key data:

Need: Host a ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving meal

Customers: Close Family (6-8 people)

And then maps out the key components of hosting a Thanksgiving meal on the landscape:

This landscape looks about right for a “Do it Yourself” meal as championed by many “traditional holiday” marketing departments. All of the food is lovingly prepared in-house, possibly using recipes and serving dishes passed down through generations.

I’m going to step into this story as Simon’s friend and share a few things.

  • I love to cook
  • I overcommit for big events
  • I eventually regret overcommitting and overproducing

After the first draft of our event is done, Simon and I chat. He points out that I’ve forgotten a couple things from the map. I mentioned that I was going to smoke the turkey, so I’ll need to get wood (oh yeah, always a trip to a special store) and we should add electricity while we’re at it. Commodities are easy to overlook until they’re missing.

Ok, that’s more complete and sets the stage for the observation that:

  1. this Thanksgiving meal is a Do it Yourself monolith, prepared in one large batch by the hosts (there’s 2 of us)
  2. maybe we don’t really have the User Need right – are we after a meal or fellowship?

Let’s review and apply some useful patterns to evolve a system from the first phase of strategy evolution doctrine:

Right off the bat, I am reminded of four patterns that relevant to improving my holiday hosting strategy:

  1. Know your users
  2. Focus on user needs
  3. Challenge assumptions
  4. Use appropriate methods

Know your users

Know your users: customers, shareholders, regulators, staff

I definitely know what my family likes, doesn’t like, and what will trigger arguments. I’m also keenly aware of our traditions and how important (or not) this holiday is to them. Check.

However, I and other hosts often overlook themselves when hosting an event.

I forgot to distinguish between Hosts and Guests. The people depicted on the map are not actually a homogenous group and they have different needs.

Focus on user needs

An essential part of mapping is the anchor of user needs. Ideally you want to create an environment where your needs are achieved by meeting the needs of your users. (…snip…) Also, be aware that users may have different and competing needs and be prepared to balance the conflict.

I overlooked ‘hosts’ as a user so now is the time to capture our needs to both host within the constraints of our limited time, energy, and schedule while also enjoying this event.

I keep using the word: event

The need started off in the wrong place. The point of this whole thing is not to a meal. If that were the case, any buffet would do. The need is closer to:

Host a ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving event that we all enjoy and express our gratitude with family and friends

The primary need is for everyone to enjoy the event by sharing their lives and expressing gratitude.

Challenge Assumptions

Now that the need is more accurately defined, we can challenge assumptions for how to meet that need.

In particular, I am sure we can meet the cooking needs in ways other than doing it all of it ourselves.

Use Appropriate Methods

In any large system, multiple methods may be used at the same time. Be mindful of ego here, tribes can form with almost religious fervour about the righteousness of their method.

Purchasing 80% of our meal prepared and ready to heat and serve is a legitimate option. Turns out I can even get a bunch of meal components that make the menu more creative and interesting than I could do myself. And I can derisk the whole situation by picking it up the night before. Sounds good.

Since I like to cook, I’ll carve off the most desirable bits of cooking for myself and the guests. I like to cook foods in the smoker because it provides a delicious and uncommon flavor where we live and the aroma from the wood smoke sets the stage for guests. Though I don’t particularly enjoy babysitting a turkey in the smoker for 7 hours.

I’ll smoke a couple of marquee appetizers to get my cooking fix. Just add an egg, says Betty Crocker.

Now my Thanksgiving landscape looks like:

I’m looking forward to enjoying this event of gratitude, sharing, and food with my family and friends. I hope you enjoy yours, as well.

Happy Thanksgiving!



p.s. Thanks so much for this strategy tool, Simon.