Product Management – the Mahi Way

BY Lokesh Kannaiyan and Gurucharan Raghunathan ON JANUARY 25, 2019

Learning about product management is not just restricted to the business ecosystem. The sporting world is one of the key platforms where you can gain valuable product management insights and see product leadership dynamics in action. Rather than look at product managers CPOs or CEOs, it’s worth looking to sports leaders for inspiration and a different world view.

The traits of the captain of a sports team can be married up with the role of a product manager:-

Captain’s traits Product Manager’s responsibilities
Passion Passionate about building product
Motivation Motivating the team to meet customer expectations and market dynamics
Right collaboration Communicating the product value to different audiences and working with different stakeholders to collaboratively build the product.

Let’s consider a real case, using cricket as our sport and former Indian national team captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni (commonly known as Mahi) as the captain.

Mahi’s Leadership Traits

 

Calmness Under Pressure

Mahi is an incredible captain. He performs well on all types of pitches and formats, and can excel against all types of bowlers. In demanding overs when the run rate is spiking for the opponent team, he stays calm and takes calculated risks by working out which bowler to target in the line up. This key trait of staying calm has helped Mahi to win many games for India and reach the number one ICC (International Cricket Council) ranking in all forms of cricket (one-day International, which has 50 overs, test cricket, which has unlimited overs, and T20, which has 20 overs).

I know there are certain things that are in my control. I look to move in that direction rather than thinking or living a thought that’s beyond my control and that has really helped me. It has taught me a lot and it’s still a learning curve for me. Hopefully, it will teach me many more things in my life after cricket.

Product Management Takeaway:

Product managers listen to different stories from different stakeholders and it’s a real challenge to resist their influence on the product.  Product managers should always stay calm and think from the product growth standpoint after considering collective thoughts of stakeholders, before they decide the right set of priorities.

Leading From the Front

One of Mahi’s most admirable traits is that he takes the blame and responsibility when India loses. He gives credit to his players when India wins. The most practical and bold decision he took was to retire from test cricket and channel his energy and focus on the one-day international and T20 formats, (each form of cricket demands a different skill set). He has chosen to focus on key areas rather dilute his focus across all forms of cricket.

As an individual, you will make mistakes and as captain, I feel it is very important that if you commit a mistake, you go out there and admit it. It won’t always go your way. The captain decides on something but it is somebody else who has to fulfil the job. Ultimately, it depends on the person and how he responds to the situation. You try to be honest to yourself, you read the game and decide something. If it doesn’t work, you stand up and take the responsibility because that’s what your job needs you to do.

This key trait of taking responsibility has led Mahi to be awarded three grand ICC (International Cricket Council) trophies in 50 overs and 20 overs formats.

Product Management Takeaway:

The product manager should admit their mistakes whenever they encounter a product/feature failure due to mistakes from any stakeholder in the team. They should also pass on the credit to other stakeholders whenever a product/feature success is recorded. This is a critical aspect of collaborative leadership.

Teamwork

Mahi has always excelled at analysing the strengths and weaknesses of his players and using them at the appropriate time. A core aspect of his acumen as a captain is his ability to leverage the right skills in his team at the right moment. He demonstrates solid expertise in leveraging the skillsets  of every player of the team at right time of the game. Only a dynamic leader like him can build a winning team of T20 and one-day international formats.

I think the players have responded really well. If you talk about this tournament, our spinners have come into action. They got a bit of purchase off the wicket and they made sure that they capitalised on that. That’s what team environment is all about. When the fast bowlers have conditions that are in favour of them, then they have to deliver and when it is not in favour of them, when you are playing on flat wickets with a bit of turn, then the spinners have to come into action. Overall, it is a perfect team environment where when we need somebody to do the job, there have been individuals who have risen to the occasion and said I will be the person who will take the responsibility.

Product Management Takeaway:

The product manager has to understand the strengths of all the resources in the team. Product managers mostly don’t have direct authoritative control on other team members, so building the trust in terms of product growth and sustainability is critical. It becomes imperative for a product manager to build a collaborative leadership over an authoritative one.

In a nutshell, we believe product managers can benefit from watching all kinds of team sports in order to observe the leadership and management traits of the team captains. Product management is not only learned through books like Hooked, Lean Startup, and Start with Why, but also from Sports!

Lokesh Kannaiyan

About

Lokesh Kannaiyan

Knowledge of working in Enterprise and Retail Security, Server, Storage, Networking, Enterprise Systems Management, Virtualization, Software as a Service (SaaS) and Cloud technologies. My interest areas are mainly around e-Commerce, mobile, Cloud, Security, SaaS, Big data, IoT & UI/UX design. I run a WhatsApp group of 250+ PM professionals in India.

Gurucharan Raghunathan

About

Gurucharan Raghunathan

I am a product proprietor excited to drive solutions for the pain points of the global internet-business ecosystem. My life at my desk revolves around listening and story telling! - listening to customer problems, the concerns of the business, and the challenges of engineers and data scientists - Recognizing all the problem statements, understanding the details and articulating the solution in the distinct languages of the respective stakeholders.

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