Chef vs. recipe book approach for managing product development

The chef and recipe book metaphors were originated from the work of Prof. David Snowden on Complexity Theory.

Recipe book approach suggests the implementation of specific frameworks to achieve the value from certain practice (Agile). This will require the organization to re-engineer (or transform) itself, at its own cost, so that those frameworks can be implemented.

On the contrary, Chef based approach does not dictate pre-configured set-up as pre-requisite to achieve the value from implementing the practice. Instead, the chef uses whatever is there to create valuable implementation of the desired practice. The value the chef delivers allows organizations to evolve and thus gradually restructure as they become motivated by implementation gains. Specifically, the chef understands how to deal with unusual scenarios which can happen when conditions change. This is because the chef has developed knowledge over years of implementation and following instructions.

Advocating Inspect and Adapt without understanding these two approaches cannot help. In absence of a chef, Inspect can lead to superficial improvement suggestion which can produce mediocre outcome from Adaptation.

The chef approach leads to evolution of the system to new states which cannot be defined up-front. The chef has the ability to guide teams (Inspect) so that they can come up with options implementable by them (Adapt).

A good agile coach implements a Chef based approach. He can help the team and system to interact together so that they can evolve to a target state which is being shaped as we go. The agile coach can help to introduce the mind-set of conducting fail-to-safe experiments by the team, so that it can probe a direction for improvement. Probing the direction can lead to sensing what approach to follow.

In contrary relying only on recipe book (for example, strict implementation of Scrum events and roles) will require pre-configuring the organization roles and teams to fit into cookie-cutter structure to achieve the up-front defined future state. In this mode we can only expect reaching this target state with no real value. For that reason, recipe book approach deprives the organization from improvement opportunities which can happen if it embraces uncertainty and experimentation.