6 similarities between Product Management and the game of Chess

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I have recently participated in a Online Chess Tournament. I really liked playing Chess since childhood but last couple of years I couldn’t continue it. This was a perfect moment to rejuvenate and start the practice. For last 10 days, I started practicing in Chess.com and might have played close to 50 matches (10 min per match). Although I was in good shape, but I believe it was not enough for me to win the tournament (In the trails, Although, I managed to win 5 games out of 8 but couldn’t qualify to 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 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 take the Decision. Similarly in the game of Chess, it’s all about taking 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.


2. Prioritization – Another major activity which 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 the feature A or Feature B first). Similarly in the game of Chess we priorities 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. Taking an example from Product Management, (Should I built 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 tradeoff your pieces. When in situation where a Pawn is in place to kill either Knight/Rook. Should I tradeoff my Knight or Rook? It’s up to the player to decide on various factors and make a move.

Should I kill the Knight or fallback?
Should I kill the Knight or fallback?
Should I play the pawn at D7 or F7, or play the Knight at G8 ?
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 keep the upcoming 2 sprints planned. In the game of Chess, every player, not only plans the next moves but also try to predicts 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 the 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 to 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 game. These are 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 we were able to deliver. As a PM, we do retro at the end of every sprint/quarter to see how align 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 analyzing the pitfalls and help us improve the shortcomings. As a Chess player, 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 it). One of the amazing features of the Chess.com 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 my amazing game I played the last few days.

In the time bound game of Chess, if any player runs of time he/she loses the match. Although I was in a better position in terms of pieces, but 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 millisecond.

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