What Do Five-Year Olds and Product Managers Have In Common?

Seems like everyone in the Product Management blog-o-universe just loves to chat about where Product Management should report in the organization.  (Sorry, I don’t have time to provide the links right now,… maybe someone can provide some in the comments?)

Unsurprisingly, among us Product Management weenies of the world, the overwhelming consensus that Product Management should report directly to the CEO.  

Thing is, asking this question of product managers is a little like asking a five-year old if candy should be served with every meal instead of vegetables.  OF COURSE the five-year old will opt for candy instead of nutritious veggies.

OF COURSE, the head of Product Management will say that he/she should report to the CEO, because it’s cool to say you report to the CEO. By reporting to the CEO, a whole new world of wicked awesome job titles becomes available. Ones like “Executive VP of Product Management,” “Chief Product Officer,” and “Grand Master Poobah of Productulation and Productification.” Just think of how much more awesomer your business cards could be with that type of kick-ass title on it!  Your mother — and more importantly, your mother-in-LAW– would be so freakin’ impressed.

OF COURSE the in-the-trenches product manager will say that the Product Management function should report directly to the CEO. That elevates the perceived importance of Product Management in the organization, doesn’t it? It brings you one, or maybe even two, steps closer to the CEO, and you’re only a few heartbeats away from the throne after that! Maybe they’ll even ask you to take over the company if all the executives die in a tragic if a plane crash (hey, it could happen; last year, they all went to that executive retreat in Hawaii together)! World domination awaits.

OF COURSE the product management training firms and product management consultancies say that Product Management should report directly to the CEO, because that makes it easier to sell higher-priced engagements. They need even more money to stuff into their money chairs and money sofas, plus it’s fun to make money angels on the floor next to that huge pile of money. (!!!MONEY!!!) 

But will any of these self-interested parties acknowledge these reasons?  OF COURSE NOT.  Instead they will all put forth the argument that reporting directly to the CEO is indeed the Best Thing For The Company, and quite possibly for civilization at large.  They might even believe their own arguments.

But is it REALLY the best thing for Product Management to be so-elevated?

If it is indeed the best organizational structure, why do so few companies do it?

If it’s the best, where’s the proof that companies with elevated Product Management functions actually get better results?  To the contrary, one of the most successful companies in the industry – Apple – has a significantly DE-ELEVATED (that’s not the right word… is it deflated? depressed? ) Product Management function.

The Cranky Product Manager has said it once, she’ll say it again.  If you have _good_ product managers, who are savvy influencers and can set a true vision and roadmap for their products,  it does not matter one freakin’ bit where they reside in the organization.  Because they will get the job done no matter what.  They will make the necessary alliances and get people on board. no matter if they are within the same organization or not.

In fact, the Cranky Product Manager usually suspects that those who whine too much about Product Management’s place in the organization are likely not so great at their jobs.  Her five-year old child would agree.


  1. Michael Shmilov

    I wonder what is the alternative? Having a chife of operations in between will make the team more productive?

    I think it depends on how big the organization, and how experienced the product managers are. In many cases, the CEO chooses to keep the product team closer so there will not be additional stations for every task.

  2. The PM Dude

    Cranky, great post, as always. Love the characterization of the conslutants making money angels. Awesome visual.

    I am in your camp, that it really doesn’t matter where they report to. I am also not in the consensus of “Reporting to the CEO or CEO analog” for one major reason. Mainly, that level exec is used to getting detailed information on marketing from marketing, sales from sales, and development from development. If you add in product management to that mix, the input from product management is often an amalgam of these disciplines, and that can lead to a lot of infighting in the senior staff (I am a veteran/victim of a lot of these drive-by’s.)

    If I have to choose, I would pick reporting through marketing. I find that my skills and contributions to the analytical and technical market analysis is often best appreciated there.

    I would not want to report through engineering or development. Too tempting to be directed to be a coffee-getter and project manager. If I wanted to be a project manager, I would have a lobotomy, get my PMP, and be happy to be part of engineering (just kidding on the lobotomy – but most of the PMP’s I know are not very creative or imaginative.)

  3. April75

    As a PM I reported to the CEO and now I report to the VP. Initially I was disappointed…yes reporting directly to the CEO is pretty cool. But honestly I like having a buffer between me and the CEO.
    And I agree with the PM Dude, that given the choice reporting through marketing is best.
    And I also agree that it really doesn’t matter where you are in food chain. You can be effective and get people to do you bidding regardless of title or who you report to….I really don’t mind coming across as a bit of b&%*ch…its ok for them to be a little afraid 

  4. Scott Sehlhorst

    Seen a lot of organizations. The “best” answer seems to depend on the people, which is no more useful of an answer than “good people succeed regardless.”

    However, I would also say that there are biasing forces that come from being in engineering (towards project management, towards “I can, therefore I should”), and from marketing (emphasis on buyer persona, sales).

    If the right way to approach a product is from an outside-in perspective, and winning requires innovating, which biasing forces do you want?


  5. MikeMarsh

    To begin with I think the role of the product manager has to be established and acknowledged throughout the organization. With that established I think the reporting structure becomes less important. My vote would be to the CMO/VP Marketing and not to the development folks or CEO.

  6. Pingback: Is Product Management Positioning All That Important? | OpenView Labs
  7. Don MacLennan


    This post was an uncharacteristically incomplete thought on the part of CPM. To the other readers’ comments, what are the alternatives? And the pros and cons of each?

    Personally, I have one of those swanky SVP titles and report to the CEO (I also lead Program Management for our business, which is about 100 deliverables a year given we’re an online business with lots of money-generating systems and multiple prpducts).

    The title and reporting relationship was important to me in order to effect change in a company that had little to no Product Management for many, many years. And had taken roadmap decisions within the Engineering department.

    Thus, it’s situational just as other readers said. That said, I don’t agree with the sentiment that product managers can succeed regardless of where they live in the org chart. Reporting lines and organizational design do matter, and should reflect the needs of the company, the actors involved and the stage of maturation/size.

  8. Meghan Ranade

    It doesn’t matter where a PM reports as long as he has enough room to exercise the best for his product. This will happen only when he reports sufficiently at the top.

  9. Crystal

    Apple, for the record, typically has product marketing managers not product managers. It varies a bit group to group, but historically, Steve was the product manager, and worked with design and engineering to build products. And product marketing would take the products to market.

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