Georgie Smallwood, Chief Product Officer at TIER Mobility, knows a thing or two about product leadership – you don’t get your third CPO title without learning some strong lessons along the way. In this keynote from MTP Engage Hamburg 2022 she shows us how product leadership is not only relevant to people at the top table.
Georgie tells us: “When I say product leader, I need to caveat. That is everyone. Leadership is a core capability of product management. Whether you are an associate product manager, a junior product manager, a product lead head of product, a VP, a CCP, a CPO, a core part of the role is leadership. And that innate quality and success as a product leader has some foundational blocks to it.”
Using the game of Tetris as a metaphor, she describes how you apply a foundational approach to manage the chaos, ensuring that the foundation – your team, your strategy, your processes and the relationships with your stakeholders – are in place, giving you the best possible chance of success.
Tetris is a nifty analogue for what product people do – it never quite goes according to plan, it’s relentless, and any success is quickly forgotten as you focus on the next challenges. A good run can be undone by some poor planning; a great foundation can be undone by any lack of focus – but there are ways of approaching it that yield better results.
How do we play Product Tetris?
Georgie’s methodology focuses on four basic questions:
- Status: Understanding, what have you got now? What’s the situation?
- History: How did this situation or challenge come to you?
- Existing game: How is it being done now?
- Future: What’s on the horizon? What’s likely to come next?
She explains how she’s applied this approach to both strategy and building and managing a team, with some great examples along the way (watch the video or read the transcript for the full details.).
If this looks familiar, it shares a lot with the philosophy behind OODA loops (Observe, Orient, Decide & Act), an approach to aerial combat – though the way Georgie applies it is more aligned to the way that Product is practised.
She concludes with a warning: “Your Tetris board is never going to look like this, ever. Have you ever played a game of Tetris that looked like this? No – product management is exactly the same. It’s going to look something like this. You’ve just got to know where your gaps are and understand how to play the next piece on top of it and really make sure that you assess things as they come to you.”
She says that you can only play the game with the information that you have at the time and the pieces at your disposal. “We all want things to be perfect. We all want the vision to be super clear before we create the strategy. We all want to make sure that the strategy, that all our initiatives roll up cleanly to beautiful OKRs. But you can only play the game with what you’ve got at the time. So take the time up front to assess the pieces and then: game on! Welcome to product management!”
There’s more where that came from! Access more insights from our past events
Surveillance art, dying phones, and fake likes – Dries Depoorter at MTP Engage Hamburg
How to recognise and beat the ‘knowing’ gap – Christina Wodtke at MTP Engage Hamburg
Get innovation-ready, your product manager is on fire! by Julia Shalet