3 Reasons Why Product Managers FAIL (every CEO should know that)

Zigmars Rozentals
4 min readDec 21, 2021

Product Manager is a trending role these days and demand in the job market is high. More CEOs see that they can not easily copy themselves and the need for a Product Manager role is real.

Product Manager is the person who creates and executes product strategy:

  • makes sure the product or service solves the customer’s problem
  • makes sure that product is desirable, feasible and viable
  • makes the company earn money by providing such a product or service through an ongoing process of discovery and delivery

“Great companies are built on great products” — Elon Musk

If you’re a CEO looking for a top class product manager, you should know that product managers are not coming from colleges or universities.

Yes, it’s nice to know books and theory. But if you look at the top 100 most successful product managers, almost none of them have a degree in “product management”.

Product Managers are those rare individuals who are generalists, but can deliver very exact and precise and measurable results. Constantly.

They do whatever it takes to make the product successful which eventually makes the company grow and expand.

However it’s not the case with all product managers. Some of them think that they know better what customers want and push their own vision for the product. Some others are ONLY listening to customers and blindly overloading products with features that are used only by few. And then, others are just following orders and do not deliver anything valuable at all.

That’s why so many companies are hiring and firing product managers all the time. Spending enormous resources in terms of time, money, and most importantly — it’s also about the opportunity cost.

So, I will explain three “cardinal sins” that should be avoided by any product manager. And every CEO must be aware of these misconceptions to avoid the trap of weak product management.

Let’s start with the first one.

1. Too much focus on the product itself

On the one hand, product manager’s focus is the product. It’s the “product” that he or she is “managing”. And it sounds natural, right?

However, on the other hand it can turn out as a trap. Sounds like a contradiction? What else should the product manager look at? Not so easy. Actually product management is NOT about products.

Listen, who needs “products’’?

I don’t. I am too busy solving 100 problems during the day. However, if I see anything that helps me to solve any of these problems and if the value is greater than the price, I buy it.

Immediately. It’s an no brainer.

Product management is not about products.

It is about CUSTOMERS.

Learning about people’s problems and pains. Finding solutions that could help. That’s the focus.

Focus is not your product. It’s your customer.

2. Becoming a customer’s slave

This is the other extreme.

For example, Product Manager has heard about the previous mistake and starts focusing only on the customer.

For example, if product is a navigation app and one customer asks to implement his favourite bubble gum color scheme, he does it. If another asks for email integration — that’s the plan.

These may be good ideas, especially if they’re coming from customers, but the problem is when they are implemented without any validation, experiments, testing, and common sense.

So, this is the problem that Henry Ford told us about:

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said — faster horses” — Henry Ford

Yes, you probably have heard: “Customer is king”. but remember — he is not always right.

Customer is king, but not always right

If you listen to all customer’s ideas, you end up creating a product with 1000s of features that nobody wants.

This phenomenon I have described as Swiss knife product trap. Read more about it here:

So, watch out, that Product Manager is not becoming customers’s slave.

3. Lack of entrepreneurial drive

This point is the main reason why many promising and talented product managers fail.

See, company’s CEO and leadership puts trust in the product manager and expects to see results. They want a product strategy that is being executed in order to ensure the company’s growth and expansion.

They give product manager all what is necessary resources, responsibility, autonomy and authority to lead the product.

However at the end of the day, nothing happens. The person is more oriented to outputs than the outcome.

Instead of new product releases that translate into new customers and revenue growth, nothing happens.

Or there is a lot of activity but nothing delivers results. In other words, even if there are efforts, there is a lack of leadership.

So, beware of Product Managers who just do what they are told to. They lack vision, they lack drive.

That’s why sometimes great product managers are described as the CEO of the product.

The concept that Ben Horowitz introduced many years ago and it was pretty good explained in his legendary article — “Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager”.

There he says:

“A good product manager takes full responsibility and measures themselves in terms of the success of the product” — Ben Horowitz

So these are the three things to avoid in product management:

  1. Too much focus on the product itself
  2. Becoming a customers slave
  3. And a lack of entrepreneurial drive.

These qualities do not deliver results