In her keynote session at #mtpcon London 2022, Pippa Topp, Interim Head of Product at Charlotte Tilbury, talks about product and creating pockets of brilliance.
Watch this video or read on for key highlights from the talk.
Pippa started her career as a project manager and never wanted to be a product manager. She had mixed emotions when she moved British Gas’ connected homes division to product managing the UK’s first smart boiler. The few product managers she knew were a bit smug and made her feel stupid.
Being a ‘proper’ product manager
She explains how it’s hard to get to grips with the idea that you’re a “proper” product manager when so often you’re given projects to work on by the rest of the business. She says even members of her own team would say “we’re not doing proper product”.
Why do we feel this way? We’re bombarded with information that tells us how to do product properly, we’re expected to be experts in product and the industry we work in. “Product isn’t a destination,” she says, “we’re not going to one day arrive at the pearly gates of Product, where there’s Marty Cagan dressed in white robes saying ‘welcome my child, come through to the product garden!’.” We should strive to do product really well but more realistically our careers and our experience build up through what Pippa calls pockets of brilliance.
Pockets of brilliance
She then looks at what makes up a pocket of brilliance.
Context – this is foundational. it includes factors such as company size, funding, company maturity, product maturity.
Personal values – these values guide how we behave, and how we approach things.
Capabilities – our skills and expertise.
People – the hardest part. We can be good at everything else but our relationship with people creates a pocket of brilliance.
Pippa relates the story of how she choreographed a student production of the musical Grease uses it to examine how you create a comfortable, safe and trusting space for people.
Product team competencies
She then turns to an example from her own experiences in Product, using it to show that the constituent parts of product values are curiosity, learning, creativity and collaboration.
She also shows a framework of product team competencies (https://nealcabage.com/framework/product-team-competencies/) that she uses to ask her team to heatmap their capabilities.
People come with emotion and difference and you’ll come across conflict and challenge when you ask them to be vulnerable. A trusting relationship is key to managing this, says Pippa. It all adds up to psychological safety.
Pippa finishes by saying: ”That voice in my head that was saying ‘you’re not a proper product manager’ was a judgement that was getting in the way of my learning… It was a judgement that was getting in the way of my leading. I’d ask you to think about what judgement you hold onto that gets in the way of your learning or your leading.
“Proper product management is hard and ruthless. But if we appreciate our context, use those values as a guide, apply our capabilities flexibly, build relationships with people bonded by trust, then we can all enjoy pockets of brilliance.”
There’s more where that came from!