There’s been a lot of talk recently about the fact that AirBnB is getting rid of product managers, and the doomsayers are suggesting that it’s the beginning of the end for Product Management, and that no one really needs product managers after all.
Most people who are saying this are (pick any):
a) misinformed about what Brian Chesky actually said
b) taking the moment out of context
c) not product managers themselves
What Brian actually said (at the Figma conference for designers, starting here — https://youtu.be/Dkfijg7s76o?t=645) was that at AirBnB “the designers are equal to the product managers,” before stating that AirBnB had “gotten rid of the classic product management function.” As the audience cheered, he said “well… let’s be careful… hold on” and went on to explain that what they actually had done was combined the function with product marketing. Later in the same talk (https://youtu.be/Dkfijg7s76o?t=970) he says
“Make no mistake, product managers are critical, they just shouldn’t be doing the job of a designer” — Brian Chesky (Config 2023)
Side note — He also talked about how they (kind of) don’t do A|B testing, which was less well received at the conference.
Ultimately, he was speaking to designers about how he elevated design at his company. He wasnt saying anything negative about product management as a function at all.
The way I see it — he was pointing out something that has been true for a while. Product Management is different at different companies, and PMs ultimately have to fill in the white space in the situation they are in. In some cases, this has led to PMs who are more design-oriented doing more designer-type tasks. In other cases, PMs who are more technically oriented end up doing more eng-design type tasks. You fit in where there is a need.
It has been my experience across over a dozen companies, and even on the three teams I’ve been a part of at Google, that the PM role is definitely not the same everywhere. You have to adapt to what your team needs. You have to be a “glue person.” I mean, if you think about it from a PM lens — the engineers and designers and other let’s say stakeholders, are also your customers. Your job is to find out what problems they have and figure out how to solve them, just like with your users. And that can’t be the same from role to role.
Sam Chen points this out in his Medium post about all of this: (https://djfluffkins.medium.com/why-airbnbs-shift-in-the-pm-function-isn-t-an-indictment-of-product-managers-but-a-celebration-of-7772eb6f54d0) when talking about PMs and how they are “the missing gear in the product that connect all the other gears together,” and how that will look different from role to role.
Your value as a PM is your ability to determine what is the most valuable thing you could be doing and then doing it. — Sam Chen
Thankfully, many other smart product folks quickly pointed out that the sky was not, indeed, falling:
So ultimately what Brian was doing was helping his PMs fit into where his org needed them most, and helping to elevate his designers to a place where they could do the most good.
If you’re interested in learning more about Product Management and improving your PM skills — check out my course on Frameworks for Impactful Product Management