Friday, September 15, 2017

What does being the CEO of your Product really mean?

I was recently invited to a panel discussion at UNSW to discuss Product Management and answer any questions for students looking for more information about it. The discussion throughout the night reaffirmed my thinking that each Product Manager role at a company is going to be vastly different. The topic of being the CEO of your product came up and to my surprise, quite the majority of the panel disagreed with the analogy. I think the analogy has some flaws, however it does hold some truth to it.

Before explaining why I love this analogy and use it as a great example, I will explain what I think the main flaw in this analogy is. To put it simply, calling oneself the ‘CEO of a team’ sounds downright egotistical and condescending in nature to anyone without proper context. This has nothing to do with what it really should mean.

One of the reasons I love my job (and sometimes the cause of sleepless nights and stress) is that you as a PM are accountable for everything that happens in your team. This starts with being accountable for ensuring your team hits their quarterly targets and releases, and leads into ensuring the working environment and team is really set-up to achieve them. If your team doesn’t meet targets, guess who people start looking for? Not the engineering team lead, or the designers, it’s the PM. Accountability is what gold standard CEO’s live by, and it’s an important quality of a PM.

In most cases a Product Manager role is a ‘do whatever it takes to get things done’ kind of role. It’s exactly what a CEO’s job description is. To give some context to this, I’ll share a personal story from the trenches. We had a release which was due to be shipped a month before the quarter end, and had a reasonable revenue target by the end of the quarter. Reasonable that is, if you assume it shipped on time and not 3 days before the quarter end. With only 3 days, we had to act fast. We got a list of customers that based on their past behaviour, would be highly likely to be interested in purchasing our new product. I spent the next 3 days personally selling via our onsite chat system until midnight of the last day of the quarter. The funniest part of the story is that we missed our target by only 1 sale - if I wasn’t so busy selling, I would have put my own credit card in! The point of the story is that becoming a direct sales person isn’t what most people have in mind when they think Product Manager. It’s the PM’s duty to do whatever it takes, no matter what they need to do to (ethically of course), to get things done. Sounds a bit like a stereotypical scrappy startup CEO to me.

To conclude, it’s not a perfect analogy, as some people may misunderstand what this means and take it a bit too far. I think this misunderstanding and egotistical behaviour is why the majority of people don’t like the phrase anymore. With this mindset, it’s a great phrase to use when explaining just how accountable you really need to be when you take on the role.


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