Product Manager - You are Not the CEO of the Product |

Product Management

Product Manager – You are Not the CEO of the Product

Product Manager – You are Not the CEO of the Product

When you’re a Product Manager, one of the must-read things is the famous Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager by Ben Horowitz written 20 years ago.

<…> A good product manager is the CEO of the product. A good product manager takes full responsibility and measures themselves in terms of the success of the product. They are responsible for right product/right time and all that entails. <…>

Ben Horowitz described a Product Manager as the “CEO of the Product”. But the analogy is not quite right. Sure, the CEO of the Product sounds powerful – it brings to mind strong leadership skills and influence. But unless you are the founder, CEO and product manager at the same time, you are not the CEO of anything.

There is Only One King

There is only one CEO of the Product, and that is the CEO of the Company. The CEO has the ultimate say in what should be done, when things should be shipped, and is responsible for profit and loss (P&L) for the product that the Project Manager works on. Product Managers may have some authority over P&L – but the final word rests with the CEO.

Product Manager is Not a Mini-CEO

Calling the Product Manager a “mini-CEO” is equally misleading. Either you are the CEO or you’re not. And there’s nothing in between, no “minis.”

  • The Product Manager doesn’t have the formal authority to demand the budget or human resources.
  • The Product Manager doesn’t determine the direction of each department (engineering, marketing, sales, support, etc.) and assign resources. Only the CEO can decide to pull resources (budget or personnel) from one product/department/etc. and put them somewhere else.

If the CEO decides to pull the budget and personnel from a product, there’s nothing a Project Manager can do – there’s no team and no product to build.

  • The Product Manager is not the final authority. They drive the product strategy, propose improvements and initiatives. But the only person who calls the shots and makes has the final say is the CEO.

CEO Leads Through Authority, Project Manager – Through Influence

By nature of their role, CEOs lead through authority – people do what they say. Product Managers are a different story: they have to build connections and convince people that the direction they’ve chosen is the most beneficial for the product and the company.

If the Product Manager decides to run the product in the CEO’s manner, power-and-control issues are inevitable. The CEOs feel their authority is undermined, their directions are ignored and decisions are made without understanding the bigger picture.

Besides that, when the Product Manager tries to act as the CEO, the team feel they are run in an authoritative, dictatorial manner where everything is decided by a single person. The goal of the Project Manager is to build trust and credibility and work with peers hand-in-hand to push the product forward – not to give them the impression the Product Manager is here to boss them around.

From the CEO of the Product to the Leader of the Product

The decisions Project Managers make impact the project success. Just as the CEOs, they develop the product vision and work on growth strategy, delegate responsibilities and empower people. They collaborate with multiple departments and bring people together to move towards a common goal.

These are actions of not just a manager – these are actions of a good leader. The ability to demonstrate effective leadership is what distinguishes the great Product Manager from the mediocre one.

1. Great Product Managers are team players and productivity boosters. They know the strengths and weaknesses of their team and find ways to bring out the best in people.

2. Great Product Managers are the curator of the best ideas. They focus on people and stand for collaborative brainstorming.

3. Great Product Managers empower the team to make the right decisions. They give the context to builders and let them build.

4. Great Product Managers know product development is a team sport. They share success with others and invite everyone to celebrate big and small wins.

5. Great Product Managers are givers. They invest in people around them and think of this as of the long-term game.

6. Great Product Managers focus on learning. They are always looking for something that can impact product development and bring more value to customers.

7. Great Product Managers build painkillers, not vitamins. They are aspired to create products that will solve a real customer pain and that people will love and share.

What are your thoughts on the Product Manager as the CEO of the Product? Share in the comments.

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