(2023-09-09) Itamar Gilad On Linkedin Why Did Airbnb Kill Product Management

Itamar Gilad: Why Did Airbnb Kill Product Management? The product-sphere is boiling-over over an interview with Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of AirBnB, in which he said that the company no longer has a product management function - PM has been merged with product-marketing-management (PMM).

Chesky was apparently not happy with how democratic, distributed, and data-driven AirBnB has become. He felt that made the development process slow, expensive, and lacking in cohesion. On the back of the Covid crisis Chesky reinvented product development at AirBnB in the image of classic Apple. Consulted by Jony Ive who led design at Apple, he merged all the divisions and business units into a single product with a single roadmap, that has (a-la Apple) two big launches per year. In a very Jobsian fashion, Chesky centralized product decisions in his hands

Chesky, a designer by training, also opted to make AirBnB a “design-led” company (another Jobsian slogan).

The picture that emerges is of a CEO that wants to fashion himself in the image of Steve Job, but in the process is throwing away a lot of what made his company successful in favor of old models: brand manager, big releases, centralized decisions, silos. (narrator voice: he is Not Steve Jobs)

In the early 2010 Google’s Larry Page had his own Jobs moment, and we got the same kind of spiel about the importance of “Big Bets” and “Design”, and exec-led decisions. The results were GooglePlus, Google Glass and Google missing out completely on Social and Messaging

Thoughts on some of the comments: - "AirBnB are evolving the role of PMs" - I disagree. It feels like the aim is to a) to make space for UX designers to operate unencumbered b) cut headcount.

"We need the function of Product Management, but not necessarily Product Managers" - I agree. The work of choosing which user/business/opportunities to pursue, setting goals, discovering the right product, assisting in delivery, communicating and aligning internally, etc. can be distributed among other disciplines (good PMs do all of this in colab anyway). But it's a lot of hard, mostly invisible, work that someone has to own.

There's a bigger point - by moving the "business" hat out of the cross-functional team you're creating teams that are only responsible for user experience and code development, which IMO weakens the team and bolsters central command-and-control. Time will tell if this is the right move.

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