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Three Reasons why the Product Manager is the CEO of the Product

There’s an old PM saying that the "Product Manager is the CEO of the Product". I don’t know the origins of the maxim but recall hearing it early in my career which has now spanned over two decades. I have seen product managers interpret this phrase literally and miss the wisdom of the comparison. Certainly, the two roles don’t matchup perfectly. Yet there is enough similarity that I find the analogy valid. Here’s why:

  1. You may or may not have profit and loss responsibility for your product, but the buck stops with you. You are the single person responsible for driving the business outcome that you have championed or been handed. Like the best CEOs, you accept responsibility for the outcome. You never blame others if the team misses its target.

  2. You get assigned a team and you can’t fire anyone. Similarly, CEOs inherit an entire staff and the best ones focus on developing their staff (not firing them.) Product managers also take responsibility for their teams by aligning the team around outcomes and creating an environment where team members feel safe, engage in constructive dialogue, express their creativity, and grow to be high performers.

  3. You don’t have positional authority like a CEO. But, once again, the best CEOs lead through vision and influence, not authority. They recognize authority doesn’t work well when managing knowledge workers. A CEO can order someone to move a box from point A to point B but she can’t order someone to have a great insight or take the initiative to act on it. Product managers lead through their vision and manage through influence. This CEO level skills is equally critical for success as a PM.

If you take responsibility for the outcome of your team; if you create opportunities for members on your team to grow in their contribution, knowledge, and career; and if you manage stakeholders through influence, then consider yourself the CEO of your product.

It’s the attitude you need to bring to work every day that matters.

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