From the time product management has been around, there is a notion that to be effective, product managers should behave like CEOs for their product. A belief that the successful product managers have the power to make decisions for their product like CEOs do for a company. Others can provide all the input they want, but the final decision should be left in the hands of the product manager. In my career of 20+ years having worked in many software companies in the Boston area, startups to large companies, this is furthest from the truth – I have never seen a product manager having the final authority to make critical product decisions like CEOs have. The CEO has the final authority for making critical decisions for a company. The notion that product managers lead by “influence” and not “authority” is absolutely true and this by very nature indicates that product managers are not CEOs. No one reports directly to a product manager unlike a CEO. This held true even when I was a product management exec – I could choose to exercise making a final decision with my direct reports, but usually not one that spans across the organization.
So if a product manager is not a CEO, are they anything that starts with a “C”? I say Yes – successful product managers are “Chief Information Officers” or “Chief Influential Officers” of their products – the product’s CIOs instead.
Like a CEO, a product manager needs to work with every external and internal constituency that touches their product – customers, industry analysts, partners, executives, sales, marketing, legal, customer support, order management, engineering, QA, you name it. From all these interactions, the product manager gathers a 360-degree view of the environment their product needs to be successful in. They become experts in “all information” that is related to their product – information related to competitors, sales, product performance, product issues, customer support issues, the list goes on. Product manager becomes the central point for not only collecting this information but also in ensuring that the right information is communicated to the right people in the organization.
It is having the latest and complete product information that gives the influential authority for the product manager to influence their cross functional team and in guiding them to make the right decisions for their products. More trust you build up in the organization as the “go to person” for the product information, more influential you become as a product manager. More time you are spending time outside the building gathering information about the people who will buy your products, more influential you become inside your own organization.
One can argue that even CEOs do not make all the decisions but lead their team to make the right decisions. True, but let us not forget that the CEO indeed has the authority to make a “my way or the highway” decision which product managers never do. Hence the big difference in my opinion.
So let us not lull ourselves to believe that we are CEOs of our products, but instead call ourselves the CIOs and work hard to become the best product CIOs we could ever be.
Do you agree? If not, let me know through comments. If you agree, I would appreciate if you share this with your product management network.