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Are Product Managers the CEO of their Product or Not?

John Mecke
3 min readMay 6, 2019

The Great Debate

In 1998 Ben Horowitz, of Opsware and Andreessen Horowitz fame, penned a piece entitled “Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager” where he asserted:

“A good product manager is the CEO of the product. A good product manager takes full responsibility and measures themselves in terms of the success of the product. They are responsible for right product/right time and all that entails. A good product manager knows the context going in (the company, our revenue funding, competition, etc.), and they take responsibility for devising and executing a winning plan (no excuses).”

To a certain extent, Horowitz’s words have become a mantra amongst product managers and purveyors of product management methodologies, training, and certification.

In 2017 Martin Eriksson wrote a retort to this piece entitled “Product Managers — You Are Not the CEO of Anything.” Eriksson asserted:

“Where the two roles differ completely is in authority. Product managers simply don’t have any direct authority over most of the things needed to make their products successful — from user and data research through design and development to marketing, sales, and support. Even today’s most senior product leaders only have hiring and firing control over their direct reports — other product managers. Does that sound like any CEO you know?

A CEO, on the other hand, stands truly alone, with ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of not just the company but every product in it. The CEO also controls all the resources of the company — with hiring and firing prerogatives across the company and final say on the budget. Does that sound like any product manager you know?”

In the past 20 years I have been a product manager, product owner, director of product management, VP of product management, General Manager, and a Chief Operating Officer among other things. While I like the idea of a product manager being the CEO of their product, I think it is a romanticized notion of the reality of product management.

The Reality of Product Management

As Eriksson noted, product managers are not General Managers. Product managers…

John Mecke

John has over 25 years of experience in leading product management and corporate development organizations for enterprise firms.