Product management has to report to the CEO. This is really not something that is up for debate.
There is a lot of data suggesting this is not presently the case for many organizations, especially in tech – and that has to change.
In order to be successful, product managers require a lot of input and clout over most of the cross-functional teams within an organization. Without the support of the CEO, it may be nearly impossible for the PM to strike a balance between marketing, sales, dev, etc… If the PM reports to marketing, that leader (vp / director marketing) will have a tendency to ensure all marketing priorities are put first. If the PM reports to development, same drill – what the dev manager (CTO / vp, eng or whatever) feels is important is what will be worked on.
Don’t even get me started on the prospect of product reporting in to sales.
Product management has to be able to move laterally (and actually make decisions) in order to ensure the best interest of the users / customers / market are at heart. If this can’t be done, the product will veer in one direction or another; and that direction may not have what’s best for the market as a clear intention.
I have had conversations with several colleagues in the space (Jeff Lash, Saeed Kahn, Scott Sehlhorst, etc…) regarding product management not being a “standard” role within an organization. In fact, I’d love to pose the question to VCs (say, Fred Wilson, Rick Segal, and Brad Feld). When you invest in an organization, how important is having a product manager on the management team?
Do you explicitly look for a director / vp of product management just as you would a vp, sales or vp, engineering? Maybe even a vp, marketing? Is hiring one a key action item for any CEO you are trusting with your investment? If not, how come?
A long while back I spoke with a recruiting manager for a very large social networking organization in the Bay area. He informed me that they were “incubating” product management in development, and the CEO “may decide” at a later time product should have a seat at “the executive table.”
Wow. That’s a whole lot of words telling me potentially a couple of things: 1) development is driving all product, which tends to be a common setup. And it’s not usually the best thing in the world. But then again, I’m heavily biased. 2) the CEO thinks they are doing a fine job and don’t want anyone challenging their decisions, execution, etc….
In my opinion, you need product management in the organization, and a PM lead that reports to the CEO and has management-level “authority” (whatever that means to you). Otherwise, the product has a strong chance of becoming heavily weighted or biased towards the group that’s charged with running it – unless there is constant intervention by the CEO.
Personally, I think a start to this is to get product management to be an actual subject / role / element taught to business students in MBA programs. Finance is. Marketing is. Sales, strategy, “organizational behavior,” etc…. Why not product mgmt?
Maybe I’m just too heavily rooted in software – it could be the role isn’t all I’m cracking it up to be in other industries.