On October 19th, we had the pleasure of hosting the remarkable #mtpcon London’s Leadership Forum event. This event was dedicated to bringing together product leaders to foster connections, mutual learning, and the sharing of inspiring stories. The day was filled with enlightening talks from esteemed speakers, including Georgie Smallwood, the Chief Technology and Product Officer at Moonpig, Matt LeMay, renowned author of “Product Management in Practice,” and Adam Warburton, the Head of Product at Vypr. Following each engaging talk, a panel discussion featuring a diverse group of accomplished product leaders further enriched the event.
Make sure to regularly check the Mind the Product blog in the upcoming weeks for detailed write-ups of each talk and panel. In the meantime, read on for a quick recap of the three takeaways from the keynote speakers.
The beautiful mess of cross-functional collaboration
The brilliant Georgie Smallwood, Chief Technology and Product Officer at Moonpig, embarked on a journey through cross-discipline collaboration.
Cross-functional collaboration, as Georgie painted can be a beautiful art to execute, with it bringing effective communication and information across all departments. However, it can also activate a breeding ground for challenges, complexities, and occasional chaos. Georgie didn’t shy away from the messiness; she embraced it.
Georgie unveiled the massive benefits hidden behind the mess. It’s the catalyst for innovation, where the intersection of diverse perspectives sparks brilliant solutions. It’s an efficiency booster, streamlining communication, minimizing misunderstandings, and accelerating growth.
And it’s the secret to an enhanced user experience, creating products that truly resonate with your audience.
Without cross-functional collaboration, the product can’t take flight. Georgie placed the mantle of responsibility on the shoulders of product managers to ensure that everyone in the organization collaborates seamlessly. Collaboration skills, she pointed out, are the keys to unlocking the doors of success in your product career.
Navigating the mess
Throughout her insightful talk, Georgie traversed the stages of ‘messiness’ in different leadership roles. From the early days, building relationships with engineers and designers, to the middle management ‘hell,’ where hiring and firing become part of the job, and finally, the CPO stage where loneliness often looms. Georgie’s wisdom was a guiding light for leaders at every phase.
Bring clarity to chaos
Georgie shared tales of the challenges she faced, particularly in verbal communication and clarifying roles and responsibilities. Her message was clear: even in the midst of chaos, it can be managed and overcome with investment and a commitment to transparent, honest communication.
Throughout the forum, Georgie generously shared a plethora of stories, each laden with invaluable lessons. Here are some key takeaways:
- Not everyone understands what it takes to be a product manager, but it’s your role to rally the teams and get them on board.
- Successful communication is when the receiver truly understands and accepts the message, especially as stakeholders’ roles evolve.
- In middle management, the complexities of hiring, firing, and communication with the CEO can lead to ‘messy’ situations.
- Leaders must rely on their networks to navigate challenging situations. They must also understand that there is no ‘should’ – they have control over their responses.
Georgie’s final message was a call to embrace the mess, but not let it overwhelm you. In times of overwhelming chaos, talking to fellow product people can help maintain your sanity.
Growing up in product
Following on from Georgie’s resonating talk was Matt LeMay, Product leader, author, consultant, advisor. His focus: Nurturing and guiding ‘grown-up’ product teams.
Matt began by addressing the all-too-familiar challenge of overwhelmed product managers, besieged by an ever-expanding backlog and shifting responsibilities due to organizational reorganizations. He boldly proclaimed that choosing to avoid the most critical tasks due to disgruntled professionals is not the hallmark of a mature leader. Nor is valuing an operating model over building the right solutions for the business.
The crux of Matt’s message was clear: to develop a strong and effective product team, one must treat them like ‘grown-ups.’
Throughout his keynote, Matt contrasted behaviours that are ‘not grown-up’ with their mature counterparts:
- Not grown-up: Assuming everything is ‘SUPER DUPER GREAT.’
- Grown-up: Embracing honesty about the state of the business’s health.
- Not grown-up: Leaving expectations unclear.
- Grown-up: Setting explicit expectations of what is expected and why.
- Not grown-up: Focusing on making everyone happy and creating a ‘family.’
- Grown-up: Making tough, business-driven decisions collectively.
Matt emphasized that effective leadership of ‘grown-up’ product teams entails: Being clear, specific, and realistic about what the business needs for success and survival. This keeps the team grounded in the reality of the business and the market.
In Matt’s view, every decision made within a product team should be informed by the realities of the business, the market, and the users. From prioritization to hiring and promotions, these realities must be the compass guiding the way.
A grown-up approach to prioritisation and growth
A mature leader prioritizes work that has the most significant impact on the business and its users, rather than simply chasing what people want to do. When hiring, growth should be based on the team’s capacity to achieve its goals, not merely the ability to bring in more hands.
A grown-up approach to promotion
Promotions should not be awarded on request but based on a demonstrated ability to have a more substantial impact in an elevated role. What could the business achieve that it cannot currently if you’re promoted? This question should guide the decision.
The path to growth
Matt proclaimed that the best way to grow a team is to grow up as leaders. Immature leaders prioritize popularity over doing what’s right, and this empowers the least grown-up individuals within organizations.
Connecting vision to action
In the closing keynote of the day, Adam Warburton, Chief Product Officer at Vypr, provided valuable insights on connecting vision to action, emphasising the importance of moving from big ideas to practical strategies.
Adam acknowledged that generating big ideas is the easy part, while translating those ideas into action is the true challenge. To bridge this gap, he proposed creating measures to achieve objectives, following a structured path:
- Vision: This is the overarching purpose, why an organization exists, and a blueprint for the future, grounded in both imagination and wisdom.
- Objectives: These are the concrete, measurable indicators of progress in the right direction.
- Strategies: These are the plans to achieve the objectives, outlining what needs to be measured to reach the desired outcomes.
Additionally, Adam presented the concept of NCTs (Narratives, Commitments, Tactics) as a method to incorporate effective strategies.
- Narratives: These are clear and concise descriptions of the strategic narrative that the team aims to accomplish. They should articulate the desired goal in just a few sentences, providing a strong sense of direction.
- Commitments: Collaboratively established between teams and leaders, commitments are the actionable steps taken to ensure progress. Typically, 3-5 commitments are selected, with a deliberate focus on what can be delivered in a specific time frame, such as a month.
- Tactics: Successful months are those where all commitments are met. Tactics are the means of achieving these commitments, effectively checking the necessary boxes to reach the objectives.
Adam Warburton’s insights underscored the significance of effective vision-to-action translation and the cultivation of a culture of learning and implementation within the field of product leadership.