The Product Manager is not the CEO

A lot of people describe a product manager as a CEO of the product or the “owner” of the spec, but I think that over-ascribes influence and authority to the product manager. The best teams operate in a way where the team collectively feels ownership over the spec and everyone has had input and been able to suggest and promote ideas. The best product managers coordinate the key decisions by getting input from all team members and are responsible to surface disagreements, occasionally break ties, and gather consensus (or at least ensure that everyone commits to a plan) when decisions get made. It’s not about building what the product manager thinks is right. This isn’t to say that product managers shouldn’t have great ideas of their own, but the goal is not to find a team that executes on their ideas blindly. Instead, the best product managers build a process to collaboratively decide on the right priorities so the whole team is bought in.

Josh Elman on medium

This role of negotiator between parties is the most difficult aspect of being a Product Manager. In most organizations, you are not negotiating from a position of strength. Most of the people you depend upon to get your product built do not report to you. You cannot use brute force to get something done and must convince (or cajole) them which is why consensus building is such an important skill for an effective product manager. Metrics, experience, reputation and even humor are all are helpful tools to have in your quiver.

Further down in Josh’s post he writes,

Great product managers understand the very tricky balance between getting it right and getting it out the door.

This is the one time in the product lifecycle that PM needs to step up and, “act the CEO.” For better or worse, the decision to launch a product, warts and all, lies solely with the Product Manager. In order to get the team (and company) on board, the decision should come after careful consideration with the core team. Once you’ve got the team on board, you can take the decision out to the stakeholders in the company including senior management. After that, at some point, you flip from a consensus-building mode to a, “the team has decided we’re ready and we’re giving you the FYI.” You have enough agreement to stop taking input for a pre-launch punch list and adding the feedback to a post-launch list.

Each company has it’s own tolerance for bugs. On the one hand you can be Facebook and “Move fast and break things,” on the other you can end up like Microsoft and Apple before them and launch your phone without support for Copy/Paste.

If it’s good enough to fly, it’ll reach escape velocity and successive bug fixes will handle any course adjustments. If it’s fatally flawed because key details were overlooked, it’s doomed to failure. Only the Product Manager can make the call on when their product is ready for prime time and their reputation will be made or broken based on that launch.

Photo of Gene Kranz, NASA flight director during the Apollo program

Gene Kranz

For further reading on Product Managment, see

Jack Dorsey the Zen Master

I had a great day yesterday at the GigaOM Roadmap conference. The agenda had a number of great speakers including Brian Cheskey of AirBnB and Tony Fadell of Nest, the red hot company that is re-defining what a thermostat should look like.

The thesis the conference explored is one that Om Malik (now my boss) has put forth a number of times. If you think of the steam engine as the PC of our age and the portable version of this technology, the locomotive, as the mobile phone, what does increasing bandwidth and the enabled mobility mean for society and businesses going forward?

Each speaker chipped away at this thesis with their own slant but Jack Dorsey, as he described how Twitter has enabled empathy on a global scale and how Square has removed the barriers of a Point-of-Sale system and the, “massive counter” that sits between a customer and the vendor, more than anyone else opened my eyes to the incredible transformation going on around us.

Yet, in light of all these incredible transformations, Dorsey challenged us to maintain a balance between the “sleek, modern perfection and the rustic, zen-like chaos” and to build products that maintain this “balance in-between”. He referenced the Japanese design aesthetic of wabi-sabi (if you want to read a great book about the topic, I highly recommend Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers).

In the end, Dorsey advised all product managers to guide themselves with these two principles.

  1. Simplification, work real hard to get technology down to its essence (of an interaction). Take away the “conceptual debris”
  2. Make things fun, remember to be human, relate, “have some whimsy” in your application and make it human.

The whole interview is worth a listen. I’ve embedded it below.

Watch live streaming video from gigaomroadmap at