Skip to content

Sushi, mental models and expectation management…

  • Adrian Reed 
  • 3 min read
Tray of sushi

Tray of sushiI’m a big fan of Sushi.   I’m aware that the thought of eating raw fish isn’t to everybody’s taste, but over the years, I have grown to really, really enjoy a nice relaxing Sushi lunch away from the office.  The other day I had a rather unusual experience which led me to draw a parallel between sushi and business analysis (and no, I haven’t been drinking ‘Saki‘, before you ask!).  Let me explain…


I was working away from the office and needed to grab lunch quickly.  I popped in to one of the many “pile-em-high-sell-em-cheap” supermarkets that seem to be a ubiquitous feature of British life, and my eyes lit up when I saw they sold freshly prepared sushi.  I was so excited, I grabbed two large trays of sushi (it had been a rather difficult morning!).  There was a park nearby, and I was looking forward to a short, relaxing break.


Until… a mini-disaster struck!  OK, “disaster” is far too strong a word but something significantly unexpected happened.  The Sushi came without Wasabi!   Now, as any true sushi fan will tell you sushi without wasabi, just isn’t sushi.  So, I sat in the park, wondering how on earth any self-respecting supermarket would make the decision to miss out (what I perceive) as a compulsorily accompaniment.


Then – in a way that my mind often does – I reflected my severe sushi dissatisfaction back to the project world.  Two topics sprang to mind:

–          Mental models

–          Expectation management


In my mental model of the world, sushi always comes with wasabi.  It’s obvious to me.  It’s so obvious to me that I don’t need to check the packaging, and I don’t need to ask the shopkeeper.  The trouble is, as I discovered, that not everyone’s mental model is the same – and in some people’s mental-model, wasabi is an unnecessary frivolity – hence my disappointment.


Extend this into the project world – have you ever had a stakeholder say “I know I didn’t ask for x, but it’s obvious – that’s always needed!”  Perhaps this is a clash of mental models, and it highlights the need to really build rapport, ask probing questions, build models to abstract and build common views of reality.  It also underlines the need for empathy with stakeholders and taking time to understand the business landscape.


Secondly, expectation management:  If the supplier of the sushi had prominently displayed “No wasabi included” I would have known at the outset.  I might not have liked it, but I’d have been prepared.   Similar situations can occur in projects — in project terms, sometimes it’s worth clearly signposting things in this way too.  It never hurts to say: “Just a reminder, xyz feature has been de-scoped to the next release…”


So remember:

  1. Always check if your stakeholders mental model includes “wasabi”
  2. If you need to deliver a solution without “wasabi”, make sure your stakeholders know


* Replace “wasabi” with whatever feature, function or requirement is a hot-topic in your stakeholder landscape.

I hope you have found this analogy useful!  So what is your example of “project wasabi”?


I hope you’ve enjoyed this article.  Do you have any similar experiences? I’d love to hear them. Please leave your comments below.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.