Product Manager as CEO: A tired conversation

In his recent blog post, Steve Johnson talks about that age old metaphor of the Product Manager being the CEO, President or even COO of his or her product, correctly questioning its merits. Is this a tired metaphor by now? Must Product Management continue to be defined by what other role it is or isn’t similar to?

Product Management is a strategic function that is most effective when focusing on discovering market problems, engaging in customer discovery, working cross-functionally to craft solutions, and finding ways to profitably bring those solutions to the marketplace. Besides things like defining features to launch, roadmapping, product positioning, and go-to-market planning, this includes identifying the right business processes, resources, and even organizational structure to support the product lifecycle.

This is not to say the Product Manager doesn’t get tactical, doesn’t have to “get hands dirty”. Indeed, small or large company, Product Management often needs to do just that to set an example for the rest of the organization, particularly when developing brand new products or attacking new markets. But Product Management cannot be expected to continue doing the everyday tactical activities over the long-term – running UAT, writing detailed functional specs, managing customer service, handling vendor invoicing, etc. At some point, these things need to be handled by SMEs who are better equipped to do so. Product Management’s challenge is to find ways to delegate these jobs to others and empower them accordingly, which may include modifying existing processes or even creating new ones for organizational efficiency in support of the product, so it can get back to what it does best. This is a form of leadership, and Product Management is all about leadership.

Maybe this is what a CEO, President, COO, whoever does. Maybe it isn’t. Whatever. Seems time to put this to rest and focus the conversation on the thing that really matters: execution of profitable growth.

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