Are product managers chief executives of their product? It depends.

It’s stated that each firm is now, at the least partly, a software program firm, which is undoubtedly altering the IT panorama. Consequently, product managers (PMs) have extra alternatives and are extra essential than ever. 

But it’s usually questioned, by everybody from the chief data officer to the help-desk technicians: What precisely does a PM do? 

The standard reply is {that a} product supervisor is the chief government of their product. Like all clichés, this one is each true and false. Let’s see if we are able to separate truth from fiction. 

Why PMs aren’t CEOs 

On the one hand, this comparability is specious. First, as a CEO, you oversee all workers; finally, everybody works for you (or the shareholders if your organization is publicly traded). 

In contrast, as a PM, only a few individuals really report back to you (or are even in your dotted line on the org chart).​ ​Certainly, asking for it to be in any other case is ​a ​surefire option to ​burn bridges, isolate your self, and get nothing executed. 

As a CEO, individuals (typically) observe you since you’re the massive boss. After all, it’s greatest to take heed to your employees and clarify your considering, however on the finish of the day, you set the principles. And if somebody doesn’t observe them, you’re empowered to point out them the door. 

That is the polar reverse of how PMs ply our commerce. As a substitute of pulling rank, we marshal knowledge. We cite focus teams and utilization stories and case research and A/B exams and card sorting. We stay and die by analytics and metrics, not anecdotes or ​pet peeves. 

What does this precept seem like in observe? Take into account the time Marissa Meyer, then the pinnacle of product at Google, ordered 41 exams of the colour blue to see which one triggered probably the most clicks. Meyer’s numbers-first, numbers-only strategy could also be excessive, however even the corporate’s prime designer — who stated this modus operandi led him to give up — stated that he “couldn’t fault Google for this reliance on knowledge.” 

What’s extra, discover what Meyer didn’t do: She didn’t challenge instructions. She issued a request for knowledge. 

​But what if​ you don’t have any knowledge? Or what if the info you do have is unclear or incomplete? Or what in case your engineering counterpoint is simply plain obstinate? 

Even then, ​a PM by no means appeals to authority. In these instances, we flip to the belief we’ve developed with our coworkers. With out our calling card of knowledge, the one card we’ve left is the relationships we’ve constructed. 

This fallback works as a result of if a PM is doing their job, then everybody on the group is aware of that they’re unconditionally dedicated to their success — with out the necessity for credit score. In spite of everything, in contrast to a CEO, a PM doesn’t have to stress in regards to the firm’s inventory worth or whether or not TechCrunch coated the corporate’s newest press launch. A PM’s first, second, and third issues are the product, the product, and the product. 

Why PMs are CEOs 

Then again, a PM shares a number of central traits with a CEO. Right here’s the primary: You’re each liable for principally the whole lot. 

Particularly, you’re liable for outcomes. Regardless of the end result — an improve cycle is stalling; customer-acquisition prices are spiking; freemium prospects aren’t changing to premium ones — you personal it. 

Regardless that others could also be at fault, the problem virtually all the time entails the product. And no matter entails the product, entails the product supervisor

Certainly, wherever issues emerge, like a moth to a flame, that’s the place a PM is available in. You might not formally be a member of one other group, however their failure is your failure. Like a CEO, your job isn’t restricted to any single lane; your job is to unravel issues, whatever the province. 

So, if the product wants extra prospects, you provide to affix gross sales demos. If current prospects are submitting too many bug stories, you provide to affix the day by day engineering assembly. It’s the destiny of PMs and CEOs to all the time be the buck stoppers. 

Right here’s one other manner to consider the PM-CEO similarities: For each a PM and a CEO, an important factor you do is make selections. The CEO decides the path of the corporate, and the PM decides the path of the product. Due to this fact, you each place an infinite premium on amassing data. 

Certainly, to succeed as a CEO, you have to be exceptionally well-informed — not solely about your organization and business, but in addition in regards to the financial system and rules. The identical is true for a PM: To succeed, you have to be well-informed not solely about your product, but in addition about your tech stack and buyer demographics and revenue margins. In spite of everything, you may’t remedy an issue for those who don’t perceive it. 

Take into consideration the parallel this manner: Neither a CEO nor a PM should be consulted on whether or not the corporate’s web site makes use of Java. However they each ought to be saved within the loop, to allow them to deliver to bear the big-picture issues that solely they will see. 

My take 

The query of whether or not a product supervisor is a chief government of their product is greater than tutorial. The reply reveals volumes about your organizational silos, your dedication to collaboration, and whether or not you empower these whose solely mission is your collective success. 

Positive, as a chief product officer, I’m biased, however my bias springs from greater than 20 years of expertise with quite a lot of software program firms. I’ve labored for startups; I’ve labored for the institution. I’ve directed analysis departments, and I’ve written code. 

And if there’s a standard thread all through my profession, it’s this: The perfect PMs provide one of the best of each worlds. Their resourcefulness makes them mainly, whereas their selflessness makes them indispensable. 

And if these traits sound fascinating, then you definately’ve come across a second thread: The perfect coaching to be a chief government might nicely come from being a product supervisor. 


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