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  • Writer's pictureBüşra Coşkuner

My opinion about Airbnb's org changes

Product Managers keep asking me: "Is my job going to be obsolete?"

Büşra thinking "No I don't think that AirBnB breaks Product Management.

A few weeks have passed and I am still being asked what I think of the announcement Brian Chesky made at Config 2023.

I waited some time to get more details about the change, and let's be honest at Config 2023 he only speaks about one part of the change but not about details.

His announcement regarding the Product Management function and role also was not very clear. He used their internal wording and didn't think about the how the listeners would understand it. What is a "function"? I'd say it's the department in a big company, or team as in org function in a small company. But not the role and the discipline itself. He mentioned it in a tweet as well that he "should have been more clear":

Still. What does "morphed the function into an Apple-style product marketing function" mean? How many people know what this means IN VERY VERY NITTY GRITTY DETAIL? I'll be honest, I don't.

So I waited for some more clarification about the way how AirBnB works and found an interview (link see end of this article). I read some other people's opinion. I discussed with some people. And I formed my own opinion. And since I can talk better than I can write, I recorded two videos and made a small minute-guide for you.

There are two main changes that Brian Chesky is talking about that I'm referring to in the videos:

  1. The change of the Product Management role, removing the PM function as a department

  2. The new "Airbnb model"

Happy to discuss. Best is to reach out to me on LinkedIn if you want to share your thoughts with me.

First Change: Changing the Product Manager's title and connection

Min. 2:08 - Product Management is NOT redundant.

Min. 3:18 - Why it makes sense that Product Managers should be more on the market side: Difference between digital and telecommunications.

Min. 7:22 - Let Airbnb test their new way of working. Maybe it works for them.

Min. 7:57 - I like the move but you don't have to jump on the wagon out of actionism

Min. 8:33 - What's behind their title "Product Marketer"

Min. 9:08 - What's behind their title "Program Manager"

Min. 9:30 - Why is it ok to have a Program Manager if it fits their system

Min. 10:27 - Not another title please that could hide the Product Management role

Min. 10:55 - Should you hop on this? No!

Second Change: Changing the system

Starts with min. 11:01

Min. 11:10 - details on how he pulled decision making up but doesn't make the decisions only by himself.

Min. 12:04 - Empowering all your people works when you are small. His own words. But when you are big it turns into a free fall.

Min. 13:44 - You need alignment to build the right thing, which is what we all aim for.

Min. 13:58 - When adopting this model can become a problem to you as a company: schemes, management types, systems, iterations.

Min. 15:38 - Limiting scope of work (are you willing to limit the number of features instead of rising?): How focus leads to better quality, communication and strategy.

Min. 17:17 - Recap: Please don't blindly copy. Do you fit their scheme?

Min. 19:20 - They always look from customer's point of view and get their employee's input. They work with data and good hypotheses that are the basis of decision making.

Min. 20:28 - They are trying it out. Try out things. Get inspired. But don't blindly copy.

One more point that I forgot to mention in the videos: They don't do strategy planning meetings as we know. They have something they call "living with the strategy". They meet every week for a couple of hours and talk about the unanswered questions and unsolved topics and ask what they should do with this until they get answered or solved. If you jump on the wagon, this is another piece of the puzzle that you are doing differently and should be aware of. We don't know as of now who is involved in these strategic discussions and how they really look like. I assume it's the same group of people who are in the concentric group of decision-makers but we still don't know exactly who's in. So be careful when you're trying to introduce this.

Some additional thoughts about

  • Hardware vs. Software companies

  • I can understand why designers are celebrating the change

  • The beauties and the dangers of pulling design and product management apart (with examples from my experience).

  • The danger of removing people from the equation who don't thinking about viability (with an example from my experience)

  • We don't know which skills their designers have, maybe it works for them

  • Maybe the viability check is done in the "living with the strategy" meetings, or by the concentric group of decision-makers in another format. Or it's still part of Product Management but now with a gap between design and product. Point is: We don't know.

The links to the interviews that I mention in the videos:

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