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  • Writer's pictureSugat

6 Similarities Between Product Management And The Game Of Chess

I have recently participated in an Online Chess Tournament. I really liked playing Chess since childhood but in the last couple of years, I couldn’t continue it. This was a perfect moment to rejuvenate and start the practice. For the last 10 days, I started practicing on and might have played close to 50 matches (10 min per match). Although I was in good shape, I believe it was not enough for me to win the tournament (In the trials, Although, I managed to win 5 games out of 8 but couldn’t qualify for the next phase). When I retrospect, I realized the game of Chess is very similar to the kind of role I am currently working in i.e., Product Management.

Here are the top 6 similarities between Chess and Product Management:

1. It’s all about taking Decisions — The most critical part for every Product Manager is to take Decisions. Be it creating a new feature or saying No to a customer, it’s the Product Manager who evaluates and takes the Decision. Similarly in the game of Chess, it’s all about making the decision. You have to decide before every single move (Should I kill that knight or fallback?). A right decision can make you win and a wrong one will make you lose.

Should I kill the Knight or fallback?

2. Prioritization — Another major activity that we as a PM do is prioritization. It’s the responsibility of a PM to decide what needs to be built and when. (Should I build feature A or Feature B first). Similarly in the game of Chess, we prioritize our every single move. Just like In the Product Management role, prioritization depends on many internal and external factors (effort, impact, cost), similarly in the game of Chess, every step depends on the opponent’s move and we have to act accordingly and line up our pieces. (Should I play the pawn first or open my move with the knight?)

3. Tradeoff — As the definition says a Tradeoff is an exchange where you give up one thing in order to get something else you desire. Take an example from Product Management, (Should I build a feature A that will fetch new customers, or Should I build a feature B that will keep my current customers Happy). In the game of Chess, there are many scenarios where you have to trade off your pieces. When in a situation where a Pawn is in place to kill either Knight/Rook. Should I trade off my Knight or Rook? It’s up to the player to decide on various factors and make a move. Should I play the pawn at D7 or F7, or play the Knight at G8?

4. Planning Ahead — In this Agile world, a Product Manager/Owner is expected to plan the work for the upcoming sprints. A great PM/PO not only plans the immediate sprints but also keeps the upcoming 2 sprints planned. In the game of Chess, every player, not only plans the next moves but also tries to predict the opponent’s move and plan for the counter moves. This way the player is well planned for the next 2–3 moves ahead. (For example, I play the pawn, if the opponent kills it, I will also kill it with my Bishop, or if not, I will give a Check to the Queen via Rook, if the Queen moves to that particular block, I will give a Check again with the Bishop). This is how iterative planning keeps happening in a player’s mind.

5. Product Strategy — Working as a PM, you must have a product strategy in place to reach your Goal. (For example, if the Goal of the product is to increase the revenue by 2X within 1 year. Does the strategy lies in experimenting with pricing or acquiring new customers by introducing a feature X?). Chess is a classic example that is known for its strategy. The enormous moves and game plans make it one top strategic games. These are a few of the strategy names you might have heard earlier (The Queen’s Gambit, Two Knight’s defense, Sicilian Defense).

6. RetrospectionA Retro is a great way to analyze what we committed and were able to deliver. As a PM, we do retro at the end of every sprint/quarter to see how aligned we are towards our Roadmap. In Happy path, when we achieve everything, Retro gives a great satisfaction but if we couldn’t accomplish our goal, Retro helps in analyze the pitfalls and help us improve the shortcomings. As a Chess players, we do a Retro at the end of every game and analyze, what was the turning point or the single move that changed the entire game. (What were the mistakes we made and how can we prevent them). One of the amazing features of the is the Game Report feature, where we can literally analyze each and every move.

There are so many lessons that can be learned from this 8*8 board game. Not only your work but there are so many life lessons. Sharing a snippet of one of the amazing games I played the last few days. In the time-bound game of Chess, if any player runs out of time he/she loses the match. Although I was in a better position in terms of pieces, I was running out of time. I almost lost the game, until my last move that resulted in Checkmate and I was astonished to the time remaining was 9 milliseconds.

Biggest learning lesson for life — Do not lose hope till the last moment and keep fighting.


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