In this November 2020 #mtpcon Digital session, Georgie Smallwood, CPO at Tier, describes product leadership as the ultimate game of Tetris and reveals how to play the pieces as you get them.
For Georgie’s advice on how to execute your product leadership role within set constraints or external impacts, watch the session in full, or read on for the highlights.
Georgie starts by explaining that Product Tetris is what she calls one of the tools she uses to help her navigate product leadership problems. “It is a game, a little bit,” she says, “and the aim of the game is to be a strong and confident product leader.”
The aim of the Game
Success as a product leader has some foundational blocks, Georgie says.
You must own the product strategy, build the team, and instill the culture and processes required, often across the entire organisation, not just the product team. She calls the game Tetris because “it’s all about constraints. You have the ability to make different decisions, depending on what your constraints are”. You need to figure out how to work within your constraints, she says – just as the constraint in Tetris is the block you’re given, but what you do with that block is up to you.
Georgie then suggests some structured criteria – status, history, existing game, and future – that will give you a framework that works within classic product leader constraints.
She uses stakeholders as an example of a classic product leader constraint.
Status – who are your stakeholders? Do you know them? Where do they sit in the organisation?
History – Just as in Tetris you can see where the piece has come from, you should learn about the background of stakeholders, what the past relationship with them has been like.
Existing Game – how stakeholders currently interact, and the reasons for this.
Future – how do you want to work with stakeholders? Are there challenges ahead that might need a different type of interaction?
Playing the Game
There are two key pieces to playing the game, strategy and team. Georgie points out that being a product leader is not formulaic and it takes practice, experience, and a learning mindset.
Always start with strategy, says Georgie, although it’s often the hardest place to start and is often the missing piece in an organisation. It also makes a large assumption – that the way is clear. That said, many product leaders will be working in either founder-led startups or companies making huge digital transformations who focus on making sure the way is clear.
Georgie takes us through the questions to ask about the status, history, existing game and future of the strategy. If the most common question in your company is “what’s the priority?” then the strategy isn’t clear enough, she says, adding that it’s been the most common question in 95% of the places where she’s worked.
The team is a make or break piece in the game, says Georgie, because a leader is only as good as their team. Whether you’re building a team, inheriting a team or stepping up to lead a team you’ve been part of, you have to first assess this piece so you know how to play it, by assessing its status, history, existing game and future. Georgie explains what you need to look out for when assessing a team against each criterion. She says: “The key thing is that you can run any new piece through the framework. When you’re a product leader and you feel overwhelmed you can apply the framework. The key to success is understanding the pieces and working out a plan for them in the game you’re playing… no game is ever the same, that’s what makes being a product leader so exciting.”
More on the Leadership Game!
- How to Refine Your Leadership Style
- Designing and Using Your Product Leadership Scorecard by Ross Webb
- Georgie Smallwood on Product Culture, Leadership and Fintech
- Leadership Mistakes and How to Avoid Them: Advice From Tanya Cordrey