When I first got to run a product organization, I reported to the Director of Marketing in the larger Sales & Marketing department. In a way it seemed to make sense at the time, Marketing was about understanding of and communicating to prospects and customers. So placing Product Management into the Marketing organization seemed like a natural fit.
In an organization I worked with later, Product Management was part of the larger Engineering organization. Again, it seemed to make sense, engineering worries about designing the product, so placing the organization that cares about creating the right solution within the engineering organization did seem to follow some logic.
While both approaches seem to be sensible, I am a strong advocate of of giving the Product Management organization a seat at the executive’s table.
Marketing organizations are largely built around out-bound and in-bound (market research) communication. While supposedly there is a lot of communication with the customer going on, I would argue that this communication happens in a different framework and is typically on a very different – and in my view much more abstract – level than what a Product Manager’s interaction with a customer would be.
Engineering organizations on the other hand are typically preoccupied with product delivery – getting the product right on a technical and architectural level (ideally on schedule). This means that they are too solution- and technically focused to truly empathize with a customer’s problems. On top, an engineering organization’s delivery focus does not mix well with the strategic perspective Product Managers are supposed to have.
While there are exceptions, I would therefore contend that both the “communications” and the “delivery” mindsets are different from the emphatic, problem/solution-finding, possibility-matching frame of a successful Product Management organization.
Product Management has to worry about finding and designing the right answer to a customer or market problem, making the right choices while getting this answer built, and then shepherding it profitably through the market life cycle when at the same time already strategizing about the “next big thing”. In this process it touches about every major part of an organization, often posing questions that are strategic to a company’s fate.
In my opinion and experience it is ultimately too consequential to have these questions discussed by proxies who operate in different frames.
Hence my rooting for an (S)VP of PM.
As usual, exceptions apply: There are organizations like startups or organizations with strong product-business-unit structures in which the CEO or the GM of the respective business unit acts as the de facto head of PM.