Chief Product Officer
The chief product officer is in charge of all the product-related affairs in which a business engages, and plays a crucial role in ensuring successful product development.
In an age of industry-leading software products that drive enormous revenues and consumer mindshare, high-quality product leadership is more important than ever.
That’s why the role of Chief Product Officer (CPO) has been gaining so much traction over the past couple of years. For many businesses, a CPO may be key in ensuring the smooth operations of multiple product lines and product development teams.
If you’re looking to hire a CPO for your senior management team, it’s important to know their exact role within your business and the core competencies that you should look for in a candidate.
Table of contents
- What is a Chief Product Officer?
- The Roles of the Chief Product Officer
- What are the Qualifications and Core Competencies of a Chief Product Officer?
- What is the Difference Between a Chief Product Officer and a Chief Technology Officer?
- Should you hire a Chief Product Officer?
- The Chief Product Officer: Aligning product development with business goals
What is a Chief Product Officer?
The Chief Product Officer, also known as the VP of product or head of product, is a C-suite executive in an organization who manages all operations pertaining to the business’s products.
The CPO leads the overall product development vision of the company and has final sign-off on all product development processes. They essentially manage every product initiative from start to finish. With input on everything from the initial discovery phase, all the way through to product deployment and delivery.
The Roles of the Chief Product Officer
Because product development requires the confluence of multiple skills to successfully drive a full product strategy, the CPO wears many hats. Their roles include:
- Acting as the supervisor for all product managers and product teams
- Developing and executing the overall product strategy for the business
- Overseeing product development tasks and providing feedback at each milestone, ensuring that the product is aligned with market needs
- Employing product analytics to improve products through customer feedback, diagnostics, and other collected data
Moreover, to successfully carry out these tasks, the Chief Product Officer manages multiple product departments within the company, including:
- Product analytics
- User experience (UX) design and research
- Product management
- Product design
A large part of the CPO role also involves market research. This is imperative for development teams to understand the target audience and deliver products that meet their needs. They are also in charge of developing product marketing initiatives using these insights that will appeal most to your target audience.
What are the Qualifications and Core Competencies of a Chief Product Officer?
A Chief Product Officer has to have a wide variety of skills and competencies to successfully manage product activities. Here are some of the most important.
1. Strategic Thinking
The CPO must have an understanding of the overall business goals of their company, as well as the needs of their target market. In essence, they need to be able to answer the strategic-level “whys” of all product initiatives.
2. Market Research Skills
Knowing how to address the target market’s pain points entails a lot of market research expertise on the part of the Chief Product Officer. This is especially important when creating a product differentiation strategy. That’s because the CPO will need to know how the buyer persona generally selects a product to buy, and how to make their own product stand out in a meaningful way to appeal most to that target consumer.
3. Leadership and Management Expertise
The chief product officer is not just merely involved with the product side of things. They must also manage the people in different departments. This includes everyone from UX chiefs and product managers to market analysts and product marketers. They also work with other C-suite executives. This is to ensure that they’re always on track to reach high-level business objectives that span multiple departments.
Moreover, a CPO also needs to be skilled at interfacing between managerial personnel, technical developers, and designers. They need to ensure that cross-functional teams are able to collaborate efficiently to ensure the success of a product.
What is the Difference Between a Chief Product Officer and a Chief Technology Officer?
As a role that is heavily involved with software development, the chief product officer’s role is often confused with that of the chief technology officer (CTO). However, the two differ in several critical ways.
The chief technology officer’s role is to identify how technology can be used strategically to advance business interests. This involves several responsibilities, such as:
- Staying abreast of emerging technological trends to spot potential new opportunities
- Identifying new and more efficient technologies to replace current ones in place
- Staying on top of tech-related government regulations to ensure compliance
- Understanding what technologies are best to invest in for the product development department
The CTO is therefore primarily concerned with the specifics of how technology is used.
Meanwhile, the CPO is responsible for the strategic frameworks for building products that support the business and solve customer needs. They understand the technology behind a product, but they’re more concerned with using that technology to create high-quality products. They don’t necessarily go into detail regarding what IDEs developers use, or what Web framework is used to deploy a project.
In a nutshell, a chief product officer deals with the why of a product—its rationale for development. A CTO deals with the how—the specific technological approach used to develop the product.
Of course, this delineation of roles means that the CPO and CTO must work together closely in order to make the best products. The CPO uses customer insights and market research to create a product strategy. On the other hand, the CTO brings their tech expertise to ensure that product development will be implemented efficiently.
Should you hire a Chief Product Officer?
A large number of the CPO’s responsibilities overlap with that of individual product managers. If you only have a single product line, maybe a product manager can adequately handle all the strategy, research, and management duties. In that case, a CPO might not be necessary.
However, beyond that, a CPO can be highly valuable in multiple contexts. Here are some examples of more complex business structures that would benefit from the leadership of a Chief Product Officer:
Multiple Product Lines
If you have several product lines with their own associated product managers and teams, then it’s quite possible to lose sight of the overall strategy and how individual products relate to your business’s core objectives. A CPO can interface with these product teams and help keep everyone on the same path.
Large-scale Product Launches Across Multiple Regions
Managing a product launch across a single region is difficult enough for a product manager to handle. However, if you’re expanding into several regions, each with its own market needs, you will likely need a CPO to manage your expansion efforts and create an appropriate strategy for your product in each market.
Large Product Division Alongside Growing Company Responsibilities
In the absence of a CPO, several senior management positions, including the CEO, can take on some of the product management roles. However, as a company grows, it may no longer be feasible for the Chief Executive Officer to wear the hat of the Chief Product Officer, as well. Especially if your company has a large product development team, it might be necessary to hire a CPO to alleviate the CEO’s product-related workload. This allows them to focus on other high-level activities and scale all aspects of the business.
The Chief Product Officer: Aligning product development with business goals
In conclusion, any product-focused business will need a Chief Product Officer to manage their product efforts. By creating product strategies that truly create value for the business and its customers, and aligning product teams with these long-term goals, a CPO can elevate the standard of product development to ensure your business is building amazing products in the most efficient way possible.