Be the CEO of your product. Be the CEO of your own career.

Every now and then, the Cranky Product Manager receives a sniveling email from a product manager who is being asked to do something outrageous such as put together a detailed product roadmap or forecast revenue for their product.

The email says things like “don’t you think it’s unreasonable for them to expect me to do these things?”, because the company never asked for it before or because the PM never received any training on how to do it.

Alas, the sentiment is not uncommon. At the Cranky Product Manager’s former employer, ChaoticSoft, she inherited a team of PMs who were so focused on feature-level requirements that they didn’t know how to write MRDs or strategic plans for products.  Attempts to get them focused on strategic issues were met with the “but no one ever trained me” excuse.

To which the Cranky Product Manager says,

Shut the hell up and show some initiative.

Honestly.  You’re a Product Manager for Cheezus’s sake.  You’re supposed to be this pseudo-entrepreneur with all the responsibility for making your product a success. You know, like a mini-CEO of your product, except you don’t have to schmooze investors or deal with vulture capitalists or Wall Street.

Does your CEO whine that no one ever trained him to do CEO-like things?

Hell no.

So you shouldn’t either.

Instead of whining, DO something about it.  Be the CEO of your own career.

Figure out what you need to learn.  And then GO LEARN IT.  Be resourceful. Figure it out. The Internet is full of resources you can use.

And don’t whine to your boss.  It’ll just make you look bad.

Because if you can’t manage your own career, why should you be trusted to manage your product?

15 comments

  1. Scott

    I am going to print this off and hang it on my wall!! It is great advice for any career. Sometimes I need reminding of this too.

    Thanks!

  2. April

    Ha! This is my fav post of the year (yeah OK, we’re only 8 or so days into it but still)!
    I worked for a woman that ran a massive business at IBM and she used to say “Gee whiz, do you think I get to go whine to my boss!? Suck it up!”
    April

  3. josh

    “Instead of whining, DO something about it”! This should become standard operating procedure.

    I think as a product manager, you have three options at work:

    1. Make the change happen
    2. If you can’t make it happen, learn to live or work around the issue
    3. If you can’t live with it, get out and go somewhere else

    Sitting still and whining about how things could have been or should be doesn’t help anyone.

  4. Ray Salemi

    Great advice!

    They need to know the key to job security:

    Job security isn’t thinking that they won’t fire you, it’s not caring if they fire you.

    The ONLY way to get that kind of job security is to be CEO of your career.

  5. Paco

    Agree on the “not whining” part.

    Using the “CEO of your product” cliche makes me want to hurl though.

    I hate schmucky upper-management types who throw that cliche at PMs but don’t back it up with any CEO-esque authority for the PMs.

    SCHMUCK: ” PMs should act as the CEO of the product.”

    ME: “OK, so I can hire and fire people for the product team?”

    SCHMUCK: “No.”

    ME: “Will you tell the rest of the product teams – marketing, sales, support, engineering, and QA – that I’m the product CEO?”

    SCHMUCK: “No.”

    ME: “Well do I get an annual budget, set the product pricing, or work with the CFO to set our quarterly revenue target?”

    SCHMUCK: “No, no and no.”

    ME: “Do I get a compensation package like a CEO with an equity interest in the company commensurate with my product’s contributions to overall profits?”

    SCHMUCK: “Definitely no.”

    ME: “Do I at least get final-say on our product strategy and roadmap?”

    SCHMUCK: “Yes, unless we need to change it.”

    ME (INTERNALLY): “Well, are there any other magical fantasy jobs you want me to fill while I’m at it? Perhaps I should also be the product time-traveler, magician or unicorn-wrangler too.”

    ME: “OK, then I’m pretty sure you’re describing a ‘product manager’ and not a ‘product CEO’, which I already am.”

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