For many product managers, the role of Chief Product Officer is the pinnacle of a career in product management. But what exactly does a Chief Product Officer do? And what is the path to becoming CPO? Let’s take a look.
The Rise of the Chief Product Officer
More and more companies are making product excellence a top priority and are introducing the role of a Chief Product Officer (CPO). With a need to deliver products that bring value to both customers and the business and the new spotlight on product-led growth. Companies are looking to the CPO to lead the way.
But compared to established departments like sales, engineering, or finance, product management is a relatively new discipline. Many companies are still getting used to a product executive with a seat at the c-suite table. It makes sense then that the role of CPO is still evolving, and the responsibilities and areas of ownership look different at every company.
A Chief Product Officer has a unique set of responsibilities among the executive team, starting with having a product vision and strategy. The CPO leads its product management team in creating products that align with customers’ and the businesses needs.
The CPO is the person who answers the “why” behind the product. As a member of the executive team, it’s their job to communicate their strategy to the board and drive alignment around the strategy with the executive team.
A CPO is also an influential leader and mentor within the product organization. They are responsible for hiring quality directors and managers and keeping the team’s composition balanced with the right mix of strengths and roles (PMs, UX, product ops, etc.)
A CPO’s direct reports include a Director of UX, Director of Product Management, Director of Product Analytics, and we’re seeing the Director of Product Operations on this list more and more.
As the head of product, it’s also important that the CPO provide a clear mission by effectively communicating their strategy and outlining a clear roadmap to success.
The CPO must determine the budget they need to keep the product competitive. They work with the CFO to secure the money they need for things like headcount, tools in the tech stack, analyst reports, user testing, and more.
CPOs also own profit and loss (P&L) across the product portfolio and will be close partners with the CRO to measure how they drive revenue.
CPOs have their finger on the pulse of the high-level trends and shifts in the market. They also understand the competitive landscape. They use all this information to inform their product strategy and drive innovation. This also involves working closely with marketing, especially product marketing, to run experiments, test messaging, and ensure the greater product story lines up with big-picture trends.
Today’s CPOs are customer obsessed and play a huge role in all stages of the customer lifecycle. They have a deep understanding and appreciation for customers’ problems and needs as well as the needs of potential new customers. They use these insights to prioritize features and functionality that will help drive customer acquisition, growth, and retention.
The path to CPO
At ProductPlan, we’ve written about typical career paths for product managers.
Here are a few tips for navigating the path from product manager through the director, VP, and finally to CPO:
Work on a successful product
Product managers are largely judged by the success and prestige of the product they have managed (or helped manage). Having at least one marquee product on your resume will help you stand out.
Raise your hand for people management
If you want to be CPO, you’ll need to get used to managing people. Given that not every PM wants to deal with the challenge (some say headache) or manage a team let your manager know early on that you are interested.
Sharpen your finance skills
If you’re an Associate Product Manager, your days might consist entirely of customer interviews, design reviews, and user stories. But as you grow in your career, the business side of product management becomes more important. Seek out a path to owning P&L for a specific product, and if you can’t do that, try to at least work on your finance skills on the side.
Get comfortable with data
Measuring KPIs and conducting data analysis is a key part of product management at every level. As you move up to senior, director, and VP levels, you’ll need to demonstrate that you understand the data and can extract broad trends and insights that can inform the product strategy and how the product and development organizations run. You should also practice presenting your data findings and the reasons behind your decisions.