Overcrowding the pan

I’ve been really getting into cooking dishes with a wok recently. Learning new recipes and the tool. It recently sprung about because a member of the family has been found to be allergic to latex heavy foods. Things like tomatoes. That meant all the curries and pasta dishes I had mastered were out the window.

Through lots of trial and error I’ve learnt plenty. And got lots of tips through YouTube too.

Cooking for the family is often a refuge for me. Unlike work, it’s a small time bound thing I can easily share with others. Digital transformation projects take years. Egg fried rice takes 5 minutes*.

Something that I found important was keeping the wok hot. And I mean REALLY hot. Both when frying rice or vegetables. But also when deep frying things.

Over time I’ve felt I’ve got a better handle on how to keep things sizzling. Techniques to cool things down. But also, most importantly for me, how not to crowd the pan.

It feels really counter-intuitive, but you can often cook faster by frying in 2 smaller batches than all at once.

If you try to fry lots at once the lack of room makes things steam and take longer to crisp up. It also makes things stickier.

What too much is… is not a concrete thing. And as I learnt to use a wok correctly, often discovered too late. But over time I’ve worked out the balance by eye.

After a long day at work on a project not quite hitting the right tempo, it dawned on me we had crowded things out.

The subject was complex. But we had a large team. Multiples of each profession. Created from 2 projects merging. Instead of speeding things up. We had crowded things out so that taking the lead on things was harder.

It got so bad at 1 point, it felt that only a few of us was doing anything at all. There were so many silent people. So many experienced people seemingly reporting back no progress.

There were other factors. As an organisation we had made reaching our users difficult. That played a big part. Lots of stopping to fill each other in or to give context. Some clashing perspectives on the same ideas. But that would have been easier if there had been less of us to agree anything before we took an approach.

Real momentum only really happened when we were our smallest.

This isn’t new. Lots has been written about the benefits of small teams. But we had created the conditions to overcrowd ourselves as a team.

It had become too hard to hear each voice. To be clear about who was doing what and what to do next. There were just too many of us for us to be agile.

Overcrowding is not just a numbers thing. Sometimes it’s not just how many pizzas feeds a team. Problems vary too much for that to be true. I’ve been on teams of different sizes where the tipping point is different. Either on balance of roles or the type of work that needs to be done.

There are many reasons something slows down and doesn’t get going. One cause could be that you’ve overcrowded your pan. Either with too many people trying to do the same thing. Or stopping each other because there’s too many people to take responsibility. Either way, it’s something I have a better sense of for the next time.

Be careful to balance your teams so they have just the right amount of people in them. Don’t overcrowd the pan.

*assuming we’re talking about just frying the egg and rice that is!

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