The Lie that just won’t Die – “A Product Manager is the CEO of the Product”

I get really tired of the overly-naive and plainly ignorant comments regarding product managers and how they are the CEO of the product. Not only is it complete B.S., but it perpetuates a problem within most if not all companies: The product manager is placed as a single point of failure for way too many important activities.

Even those that readily admit that the basic premise is false still confuse the matter.

I just read some great notes from Mark Littlewood from BoS on a presentation given by Marty Cagan that covered product management. In it Marty states that Product Managers are definitely not the CEO but they are LIKE the CEO.

Mark wrote:

“as they need to understand all of the aspects of the business – user acquisition cost, engineering, design and UX, legal issues, compliance issues, marketing, onboarding, contracts, sales channels… ”

The summary goes on to admit that product managers don’t have the formal authority of a CEO which is why “it is the hardest job on the team”.

Yup. It’s a hard job and it’s hard because so many people think that the product manager can actually do all of those things well.

I don’t know of too many CEOs (let alone a single role) that have a clue about such a wide range of things as CAC, engineering, UX, etc. The CEO delegates all of that to others.

And too many within software companies willfully cede these activities to the product manager even if they shouldn’t be. And most-likely these details are handed to the product manager because “shouldn’t a product-related matter be handled by product management?”.

But what single person can cover all of the items listed? We’re talking about human beings, not some supercharged AI-augmented cyborg.

So basically the product manager is supposed to be a jack of all trades and master of none doomed to live a life of mediocrity because they are expected to do too much and without any of the formal authority required.

Product management is not the CEO and shouldn’t be asked to resemble anything like the CEO.

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