Product Manager is the CEO of the product. Really?

I think this post is a little controversial and believe it will bring a lot of valuable feedback from the readers. I wholeheartedly welcome that.

I’ve been contemplating about posting an article on the subject of product managers being perceived as the “CEO of the Product”, and personally it’s overdue from me for quite some time.

I believe product management is one of the toughest jobs in the business world. You have to be flexible, creative, smart, business savvy, thick skinned, pragmatic, and the list goes on. You have all the responsibility, yet own none of the resources.

The Myth

People often say that a Product Manager is like the CEO of the product, and hence you are responsible for leading “everything” from the conceptual stages until the product is launched, and even beyond that. And I do preach it, as there is no other choice!

The Reality

Product Managers are expected to deliver results mostly by “influencing” internal teams upon whom you don’t have any direct authority. You have to survive by influencing teams, pursuing them, leading by example, representing customers, being the face and voice of the market, building relationships, et al, and investing loads of energy in basically “running behind” the development and operational folks who, in my experience, demonstrate very little ownership. And as someone aptly put it “a product manager is always held guilty, unless he proves otherwise“.

The Truth

But what gets missed in such “reality” discussions is the fact that there is really another person (CEO/VP/GM) who has direct authority over several different teams, and in a larger context the Product P&L itself. This person has a lot of direct control and authority over the teams that you try to influence.

What can be done to make Product Managers the CEO of products

  1. Empower Product Managers to own Product P&L
  2. Empower Product Managers with direct and indirect authority over most (if not all, currently there is none!) teams that they work with
  3. Let Product Managers be involved in the hiring process of all personnel who are directly involved in product development
  4. Empower Product Managers to review employee performance
  5. Let development, UI, and operational teams get product manager’s approval for time-offs and vacations
  6. Empower Product Managers to decide who will work on what project (resource allocation)
  7. Let Product Managers decide perks for teams for going over that extra mile in an important deliverable
  8. And last but not the least, Product Managers must get a share from the profits:-)

Do you agree with my views? What has been your experience so far? Would love to hear from you!

About Mohamed-Aneez
Passionate about Product Leadership

10 Responses to Product Manager is the CEO of the product. Really?

  1. Don says:

    The position that the PM is the CEO of the product is baloney. The PM is an influencer, in most situations, and the guiding light of the product in the best of situations.

    A useful first step to empowering the PM would be to give the PM the authority to approve the items that the teams work on, and the related specs. Anything beyond that intrudes into the authority of the line management team.

  2. Considering Product Manager as a CEO somewhere definitely intrudes in the authority of line management team. #4, #6, and #7 is a perfect example of this.

    Rather then being the CEO, I would prefer PM to be called the “Owner” of the product.That empowers him with respect and a sneak in to the other territories which makes it very easier for PM to get her/his work done with ease. The main aim for PM should be to make sure that the product which is coming out is acceptable in all manners, and that is where the entire energy should go.

  3. Jim Byrd says:

    If a PM does not view him/herself as the CEO of the product, they should look for another career! No one in a company, even the CEO, has absolute authority. The wide availability of information about markets, products, development methodologies, etc. makes everyone in the organization an expert willing to tell the PM how to do their job. An effective PM is always armed with the latest knowledge/facts about their product, market, customer, financials, support status, etc. With this data the PM has the right to make the business case for resources and influence the decision process. No company has unlimited resources, so be prepared to compromise, but without the data, the PM is just another voice at the table.

    The minimum a PM should be doing is negotiating the development plan with R&D. Again, no one has unlimited people or time so the PM must have a prioritized list of deliverables to bring to the R&D team. Life is a negotiation, full of compromises, but you’ll go further with facts and data on your side.

    I’ve been a PM for 20+ years for large and small companies, and have always treated my product lines as my own business. Wouldn’t the job be boring otherwise?

    You sound frustrated Don. Are you working for a start-up? That is typically where Founders and technologists have the most influence. If not, maybe your company needs to take a fresh look at the PM position.

  4. Don says:


    My intent in responding to the question was to be emphatic in pointing out that the PM role is NOT a CEO role.There is generally a line operation with which the PM must operate, and this reality must obviously be honored. Once a PM begins to think they are the CEO of their product, they run the risk of losing sight of their true role: to be the advocate for the product. Good PMs must feel an ownership of their product, and a desire to see it succeed: beyond the job requirements, their success and satisfaction require that they do so.

    I can only repeat what I said earlier: “The PM is an influencer, in most situations, and the guiding light of the product in the best of situations.

    To me, the minimum that PM should do is produce a vision for the product, which can serve as the framework within which any discussions concerning a product’s development plans can take place. This obviously requires that the PM have facts and data to support the product vision. These things enable the PM to engage in and influence the negotiations needed to flesh out an acceptable and actionable roadmap .

    My perspective comes from my almost 40 years either being or managing Product Managers. I’ve found that once a PM recognizes that they have no real positional authority, but do have the opportunity to significantly and directly impact the course of a product’s development based on the force of their knowledge, analysis and presentation, the PM can see the real source of the position’s power to influence. Embracing this approach will generally result in a PM who will be listened to, their opinion respected, and their product will have the best chance of being successful.

    As for frustration, every one feels frustrated at some point, don’t they? It’s what you do in response to it that matters. For a PM it often occurs when a well-thought-out and presented position is not embraced. The response is the same as it if a product feature is not received as expected: listen, analyse, revise if appropriate, and discuss again.

  5. CRaig says:

    “Empower Product Managers to (co)own Product P&L (ROI)” (paranthesis mine) seems about right — esp. if we talk dollars not percents.

  6. Marilyn Maguire says:

    One of the missing responsibilities from the list in the posting above is that the Product Manager(s) should have a say in budget preparation and assignment. One of the key roles a PM plays as this CEO of the product is the fully invested owner, and no owner of a company can do so without knowing the budget, the cash flows and when to realize the return on investment needs to be revisited. Give PM’s budget approval and input, and the authority vested in the position goes up!

  7. suhaylpatel says:

    I would like to add to this discussion by saying that in principal I agree with the statement that ‘Product Managers are the CEO’ for the simple reason that we through processes and insight direct our product management skills to ensure the product reaches a successful and profitable outcome which is the intent of any project.

    With our experiences and planning we take a product that is “non-Existant” to the market and devise planning and strategies to make certain that we make our product the most desirable and most purchased commodity.

    The role of a CEO in any company is to make sure that the company in its entirety is productive, adds value to its clients and the bottom line yields a revenue increase at every stage to make the company profitable, so I say is this not what we do exactly with the product we are tasked to manage. It goes to say that if a company does not increase sales, yield profits, increase market presence above competitors it will indefinitely run at a loss.

    In the same instance we as Product Managers do the same and thus, I believe that in principal we are not only the ‘CEO’ of the product but also the ‘Product’ itself.

  8. Alfred Hauenstein says:

    The Product Manager as (mini-)CEO is a guiding principle in some, but by far not all organizations.

    If you want to empower the PMs to actually be the (mini-)CEO it is quite simple, becaus it is “just” about two things: Money and People.

    So the recipe is:
    Empower the product manager by delgating the following responsibilities from the CEO, VP; GM to the product manager for his field of product responsibility:
    1. Budget = Money: The PM has to have decision authority about the money spent for his product, in high-tech companies this is the R&D money in particular (that’s a big change for many orginizations)
    2. Team = People: Delegate the team members for the time of the product project into the PMs responsibility (line management will keep formal authority), so that the PM is able to clearly assign tasks.

    Simple, isn’t it? Just the reality sometimes falls short of the vision…


  9. BobD says:

    Another way to look at this issue is to consider the product manager as a program manager, where the program is ongoing support of a particular product or product line. The situation is the same: no direct authority, broad responsibility for all aspects of the program, effectiveness by “influencing.” Because it relies on personal influence, effectiveness is highly dependent on the person in the role; some people “get it,” and succeed, others are simply not cut out for the role.

    Rather than focusing on direct authority and span of control, another way to gauge this in a particular organization is to ask how is the PM recognized and rewarded by the company? If you are not being rewarded for doing things that you think are essential to the job, then you are either in the wrong job, or you job is to be the scapegoat for when things don’t go as planned.

    Just my two cents.

  10. Pingback: Product Manager as CEO for the Product « The Business of Technology

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