It’s been more than 20 years since Ben Horowitz wrote the now famous memo “Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager,” where he posited that “a good product manager is the CEO of the product.” Product management has come a long way since, and as the role evolves and product managers become more influential in many companies, this trope has become a favorite punching bag.
In our poll, the majority of you (79%) were not really buying it. As it turns out our debaters were also skeptical of this assertion.
Yes and No
Yes, because in some cases PMs drive strategy, roadmap, organizational alignment and are the leaders responsible for the product’s success. No, because in most cases today the product manager has neither direct authority over resources and budget nor P&L responsibility. This makes the job of a PM more challenging (and more fulfilling to some). However, in general leadership, influence, and being a change agent are key skills that could lead a PM to be a CEO someday.
Director of Product Management, Okta
'PMs are the CEO of their product' is a useful abstraction that serves to a) illustrate the role of a product manager as a leader and connective tissue and b) create an expectation that the product manager is accountable to make things happen. As a matter of practicality, however, there are many other stakeholders with equal or greater decision-making authority than the PM. Sales may demand a particular feature to close a Fortune 500 customer, Marketing may have a campaign that requires reprioritizing the roadmap, or the CEO might hate the design of a particular UI panel. The closest thing a PM can do as a "CEO" is provide clear direction to their team, offer context for why things are happening, and help unblock as necessary.
VP Products, Resy