5 Product Leadership Lessons From the #mtpcon Leadership Forum 2017

BY CASPER SERMSUKSAN ON SEPTEMBER 13, 2017

Mind the Product Leadership Forum 2017

Last week I joined the Mind the Product Leadership Forum in London. Among the speakers and panelists were Matt Walton, Julia Whitney, Roman Pichler, Arne Kittler, and Brant Cooper. It took me two days to get to London from Yogyakarta, Indonesia for the night before the sessions, but it was worth it.

While I originally wrote about the event to remind myself and share it with my teams, I think the wider community could also benefit from reading it. So, here it is. Hope you enjoy it.

1. Create Bands and a Festival, not an Orchestra

Whether we work at a big company or a small startup, we need to monitor how our teams are growing. A band is a small team that consists of enough people to get a job done. A product manager is like a leader of a band. Everyone contributes and works together. On the other hand, an orchestra is a big group of people waiting for instructions. It is top-down communication.

Our job as product leaders is to create a festival where all the different bands work together to make our customers happy. These different bands shouldn’t be competing with one another. We should keep our bands small, so that we can move fast, but we should make sure we have members who can play all parts.

This removes us leaders from being in the front seat and frees our time to look at the bigger picture. We are not there to give approval but to help each band when they need it. Spotify is a great example for this.

Food for Thought: Are you currently building a band or an orchestra?

mind the product leadership forum

2. Learn From Others

We consistently hear and read about learning from failures. Fail fast, fail often is a concept we hear preached. While there are valuable lessons from this, they can also be very expensive lessons. There is an alternative. What about learning from others’ failures and successes? This is also why Silicon Valley has been successful and has been able to present itself as a hub of innovation and disruption for a long time. This is “pay-it-forward,” or basically “learn from my mistakes and successes”. I am very thankful that product leaders shared their lessons at the Mind the Product Leadership Forum, they’re helping to move the community forward and build better products that people love.

Food for Thought: What are you actively doing to make sure that you are also learning from others?

3. Be Clear About What Autonomy People Have

Another hot topic at the MTP Leadership Forum was related to autonomy. In a Utopian world, everyone has the autonomy to do whatever they want and everyone will be very successful. However, in reality, things do not always go that way. We should be telling our team members what they have autonomy over, and what they don’t.

By setting the right expectations, we can ensure that our team know what is ahead of them, and find their way around limitations. After all, the ability to work around limitations requires innovation and creativity. Team members also need to be held accountable for their performance.

Food for Thought: Think about what each member of your team both has and hasn’t autonomy over. Have a conversation with them about it.

mind the product leadership forum scarf

4. Consider SCARF framework, 3Es and Psychological Safety when making changes.

In a technology era, everything changes very quickly, including our workplace. We need to keep up with the pace, but how can we make changes quickly and moreover healthily?

“People don’t resist change, they resist being changed”

At the Mind the Product Leadership Forum, Julia Whitney shared with us a simple framework to consider, which she called SCARFStatus, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness. Anything that enhances them will make people embrace changes, she said. Anything that undermines them will make people resist change.

Any change in an organization will create a psychological threat to members if it undermines one or more of the above five items. Studies show that a psychological threat has similar effect on our brains as a physical threat. When trying to influence changes, consider showing people the 3 Es – Empathy, Experience, and Evidence. People need to be shown empathy, experience the problems first-hand and see evidence that this has worked in the past.

Julia reminded us to not think of team members as Change Embracers vs Change Resisters. Instead as leaders, we should consider expanding our empathy, volunteer our vulnerability, and continue to be curious. Help them to create psychological safety.

Food for Thought: Look back at any major change in your personal or professional life. Was it easy? Was it hard? Use SCARF to evaluate it.

mind the product leadership forum panel

5. Help the Right People Develop the Right Skills

“Spend less time building products right, and spend more time building the right products,” I am sure most of us have heard this before. It is very important for product people to build the right product. In order to do so, we also need the right people with the right skills.

All of us have deadlines to meet. We don’t have enough time to teach other people. Our teams don’t have enough time to learn and develop their skills. But take a look a popular CEO/CFO conversation below:

Food for Thought: Look at your calendar, and see how much time you’re spending on developing your team members. Is it enough?

Leadership can be Lonely

Attending this Mind the Product Leadership Forum reminded me of several lessons that I’ve overlooked. Being a leader can feel lonely, and being a product leader can feel even more lonely, you are trying to make everyone in the company work together. It was helpful to learn from and share our struggles with product leaders from all over the world. It was a group therapy session that all of us need from time to time! Thanks to the Mind the Product team for putting this together.

mind the product leadership forum audience

About CASPER SERMSUKSAN

I am currently the COO and Head of Product at Kulina, a food subscription service startup in Indonesia. I spend my time outside of work writing articles, speaking at conferences, mentoring other founders and leaders, and building communities for entrepreneurs and product managers. If you’re traveling to Thailand or Indonesia and are interested to speak, please contact me at casper.sermsuksan@gmail.com. I also welcome an opportunity to speak and share knowledge with your community!

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