From Iteration to Vision: Why Product Managers are the Unseen CEOs

In the evolving landscape of business and technology, the terms "Agile Development" and "Product Management" have frequently crossed paths. While both play pivotal roles in the realm of product creation, it's crucial to differentiate between the two, to truly appreciate the breadth and depth of each discipline. Agile Development, birthed in the late '90s as a response to the frustrations of traditional software development, differs substantially from the strategic umbrella that is Product Management.


Agile Development: A Response to Software Chaos

Emerging from the shadows of the late 20th century, Agile was an answer to the chaotic world of software development. At its core, Agile was the software industry's passive-aggressive response to project stakeholders often being unable to articulate their requirements. These were the days when software was typically an internal IT project or a client-specific venture. Requirements would come from a 'customer' who wasn't always clear about what they needed, leading to missed expectations and unsatisfactory products.


The Manifesto for Agile Software Development (Wrongly labeled: "Agile Manifesto") was crafted with one primary objective: to build better software by continually demonstrating to the customer their misunderstood needs. Through iterative cycles, developers could show progressive builds, continually refining the software based on feedback. This approach was groundbreaking as it enabled the development of software that was closer to what the end-users wanted—or at least, thought they wanted.

To reiterate more clearly, the writers of the manifesto were never interested in the business, they were soley focused on building software that they could be proud of.  While many can argue that "Agile" can be applied everywhere, they miss the fundamental purpose of business (" create a customer" - Peter Drucker) and the what we call the funamental purpose of product " capture viable markets of happy customers."


Product Management: The CEO of the Product

Venturing beyond the iterative loops of software builds, Product Management is a strategic discipline that envelops the entire product lifecycle. A Product Manager (PM) doesn't just iterate on features; they lead a product's journey, from conception to its sunset.

Here's where the comparison of a PM to a CEO becomes crystal clear:

  • Investment Leadership
    Much like a CEO leads a company's investments, ensuring profitability and growth, a PM directs the investments into their product. They assess market needs, financial feasibility, potential returns, and align resources to ensure that the product not only meets user needs but also aligns with the company's strategic vision and profitability metrics.
  • Strategic Vision
    CEOs have the company's broader vision at heart, steering it towards success. Similarly, PMs are custodians of their product's vision, ensuring every feature, update, and pivot aligns with the broader company goals and market demands.
  • Accountability
    A CEO is accountable to the board, shareholders, and stakeholders for the company's performance. In the same vein, a PM is accountable for their product's performance. Their decisions impact user satisfaction, profitability, market share, and the company's reputation.

Strategic Depth of Product Management

Beyond the iterative development and alignment of vision, a significant facet of Product Management lies in its strategic underpinning. This strategic depth requires a Product Manager to wear multiple hats—equivalent to a financial analyst, a strategist, a marketer, and a leader all rolled into one. Let's delve deeper into some key strategic elements that PMs incorporate into their role:

  • Crafting Product P&L (Profit and Loss)
    Like a financial overseer, PMs often create and monitor their product's P&L. This involves estimating potential revenues, forecasting costs, and projecting profitability. By keeping a close eye on these financial metrics, they can make informed decisions, ensuring the product remains economically viable and aligns with the company's financial goals.
  • Flywheel Creation
    Borrowed from business strategy, the concept of a flywheel involves creating self-reinforcing loops where each element feeds and supports the others. For PMs, this might mean designing features that drive user engagement, which in turn attracts more users, leading to enhanced data collection, subsequently refining the product further—a virtuous cycle of growth and improvement.
  • Investment Thesis Formulation
    Akin to a venture capitalist, a PM crafts an investment thesis for their product. This outlines the reasons to invest resources into a product, considering market dynamics, competitive landscape, potential risks, and expected returns. It's this thesis that often sways stakeholders and justifies the allocation of resources.
  • OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)
    PMs utilize OKRs to define clear objectives for their product and then outline measurable results to track progress towards those objectives. These are not just task lists; they are vision-aligned goals that propel the product forward. Alongside OKRs, KPIs act as the pulse of the product, providing real-time metrics on product health, user engagement, and financial performance.

Scenario Planning: In an ever-evolving market, PMs are also futurists. They craft various scenarios for how the market might evolve, how competitors might act, or how users' needs might shift. By thinking ahead and planning for multiple potential futures, they ensure the product remains adaptable and resilient against uncertainties.


While Agile Development has revolutionized software creation, bringing a much-needed focus on iterative feedback and refinement, it remains, at its heart, a software project management framework. On the other hand, Product Management, with its strategic scope and investment leadership, is akin to the role of a CEO, directing the product's journey in alignment with business goals, market dynamics, and financial metrics.

The realm of Product Management is expansive, encompassing far more than just product features or development cycles. It's a fusion of strategy, finance, marketing, leadership, and foresight. By integrating tools and techniques like P&L statements, flywheels, investment theses, OKRs, KPIs, and scenario planning, Product Managers ensure their products are not just viable but are poised for growth, resilience, and market leadership.

To appreciate the depth and breadth of product management, it's essential to understand it as an expansive realm that goes beyond the iterative confines of Agile, where the Product Manager is not just overseeing product features, but leading, deciding, and being accountable for the product's entire trajectory in the marketplace.