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If you've been on either side of the fence in interviews for a product manager position, the Cranky Product Manager's just finished 6-part video series on "The World's Most Generic Product Management Interview" might appeal to those who need to do a little venting.
The second video highlights a common thread of thinking amongst product managers:
Most CEOs are more focused on sales and revenue numbers than products that create those revenues, so product managers are used to taking the lead. Sometimes that means taking utter responsibility for the success of the product, while at other organizations it's an ongoing educational campaign – and an uphill battle – on what customers will actually spend money on. Some would say that Apple doesn't "really do" product management since the CEO takes ownership of the product instead of the company’s product managers.
I would like to reshape your thinking. Apple isn't without product management; they have the ultimate product manager. Apple has one of the world's only Chief Product Managers and THAT is one key to their success.
Steve Jobs isn't my childhood friend. We don't share cocktails at a local happy hour special on Friday nights. But I can tell you that his company's consistent, sequential and outrageous success on almost every product is not magic. Nor is it the result of sporadic epiphanies in Steve's mind. He doesn't just wake up one day and recant his dream of the entire iPhone interface.
He and his team of product managers and designers are tuned into a cult following that is very vocal about what they like, want and are willing to pay for. Couple that with Apple's core competency in design and its relentless focus on delivering a pipeline of new features and products – and it IS product management. If more CEOs were like Steve; if they became their own Chief Product Officer or Chief Innovation Officer, I would describe that level of CEO involvement in the product as a benefit to product management, not the lack there of.
Sales and marketing have always dominated the CEO agenda, because sales pays the bills. What wasn't on the CEO agenda was product strategy and, specifically, the linkage between corporate strategy and product execution. In the past "good enough" profitable products and the occasional blockbuster product were good enough. But now the game has changed.
Now social media has made peer reviews, referrals and recommendations the most important factor in buying decisions across every sector. Now the connection between good products and financial performance is very clear – to every stakeholder. The elevation in products up the priority chain can be seen by the fact that in CNN Money's latest list of top paid professions, product managers have taken the spot of sales as the top paid tech profession.
Steve Jobs bypasses excessive bureaucracy, middle-men message carriers and the introduction of bias that happens with consensus-based decision making. The Apple model gives one clear direction that's immediately understood through all levels of the company. The strategy and goals cascade down and the impact of decision making is cascaded up the organization. That is how product management is suppose to work.
But the Apple model is more than product management; it's about strategic agility. If a company wants to get more than 10% of today's revenue from products that didn't exist 12-24 months ago – it needs to achieve strategic agility. And requires hyper-collaboration, a fast to fail mentality, transparency and visibility into requirements and progress, and an obsession with customer delight. Only the CEO can put a company on the path to strategic agility.
Don't resist the CEO takeover. It doesn't mean the CEO felt you weren't making the right decisions, it just means your role has become even more important and only the CEO can push product management to the next level internally. In fact, I encourage you to spend time with your CEO and encourage the Apple-like model of product management. It can be just as successful at your own organization.