The "Myth" of the Product Manager as CEO

A common trope is that the Product Manager is like the CEO of the product. Alas, that can't be further from the truth, and we need to put that myth to rest

One thing that has really begun grating on the Dude, is the mantra that product management is like the CEO of the product. It is a nice idea, and it makes us feel good and valuable, but it really isn’t a good analogy.

Unless you have control over headcount, the composition and size of the engineering team, the deployment or operations team, and a heavy knob to turn on the sales channel, you really aren’t even a CEO-lite.

Note: there are some companies and industries where the product manager or equivalent role has this sort of authority. However, this person is often closer to a general manager, and has true P&L responsibilities.

You might say “Dude, but my job description says I have profit and loss responsibility.” Yeah, the Dude has had a couple roles where he was told he had P&L ownership. But invariably, there were very limited knobs to turn. If you can’t resize engineering or marketing to adjust the burn rate, or alter the direct versus representative composition of the sales team, or make a decision to outsource a business function, then you really have “loss responsibility”. The Dude calls it this because it means that you can’t turn knobs to improve profitability, but you will get slaughtered if there is a loss.

This is not to say that you aren’t crucial or influential in the development and scoping of products, and markets, but let’s not delude ourselves any longer. Time to squash this myth.


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