You are ‘the CEO of the product’

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You are the product manager (PM) and you think, as I do, you are the CEO of the product. What do you do? As CEO of the product, what ONLY you, the PM, can do?

Peter Drucker: The Role of a CEO, PC: Wikipedia

Sam Lessin, Co-founder at Fin, says “The PM function is sort of a lubricant – to make sure the people who make stuff work well together.” When the product succeeds the PM succeeds. Julia Austin, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, says, The best PMs she has worked with have mastered the core competencies, have a high Emotional Quotient (empathy), and work for the right company.

Examples of core competencies include:

  • conducting customer interviews and user testing
  • including engineering in customer interviews
  • running design sprints
  • feature prioritization and road map planning
  • the art of resource allocation
  • performing market assessments
  • translating business-to-technical requirements, and vice versa
  • pricing and revenue modeling
  • defining and tracking success metrics

In addition to the core competencies, as a PM, you should have, the ability to empathize with customers and you must astutely bring out the pain points that the product or feature will address.

If you want to be successful Product Manager, it is not enough to have core competencies and empathy, you must also choose the right company for you. In some companies, prior experience in the field is very helpful. In a company such as Google, you have to be technically strong. Find out if the company you are in, is the right fit for you.

In my view having core competencies, empathy and finding the right company is only the beginning. In order to be the CEO of the product, you have to do what Peter Drucker has advocated for the CEOs.

Peter Drucker, the founder of modern management, said in 2004: “The CEO is the link between the Inside that is ‘the organization,’ and the Outside of society, economy, technology, markets, and customers. Inside there are only costs. Results are only on the outside.”

As CEO of the product, you the PM, is that link between the inside that is the product teams (engineers, data scientists and designers), and the outside that is competition, economy, advances in technology and customers. Inside there are only costs. Results are only on the outside.

Linking the outside to the inside is the role only you, as the product manager, can play. You alone experience the meaningful outside at the product level and is responsible for understanding it, interpreting it, advocating for it, and presenting it so that the engineers, data scientists and designers can respond in a way that enables sustainable sales and profits.

Marketing, Sales and Customer Success are externally focused. Just about everyone else is inwardly focused. Integrating the outside and the inside is hard. It’s far easier to pick one. As the product manager, you can see opportunities that other’s don’t see. It’s the job you must do because without the outside, there is no inside.

Drucker’s observations on CEOs that you can apply, as a product manager:

  1. Define and interpret the meaningful outside.
  2. Answer, time and again, the two part question, what does your product do and what does your product NOT do.
  3. Balance sufficient yield in the present with necessary investments for the future.
  4. Shape the values and standards of the product. A great product culture is built around a strong cross-functional empowered product teams..

Remember, purpose of the product is to create a customer. As the CEO of the product, constantly link the outside (customers, competition, advances in technology) to the inside (engineers, data scientists and designers).

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