Over the last year, while working with many of the consumer oriented businesses – I came across various scenarios where I had to compare the role of Chief Product Officer (CPO) in comparison with the role of Chief Technology Officer (CTO). While industries are well familiar with a typical CTO role and what he/she is supposed to do, the role (and of course the need) of CPO still seems to be confusing to many. Do organization need both? Is one the replacement for other? And so on.
I tried making a Google search for the job description of CPO; however could not find one. However, I did come across several search results associated with the announcements of CPO in several organization. This makes me believe that this role is still not part of main stream. Also, an interesting observation you would see when you make this search – seems like most of the industries in end-consumer interfacing/used products are the ones who are making investment in this particular role.
So what is a CPO? PTC in one of their press release has made an attempt to describe this role. One of the analogy they have used is with the role of CFO – the way CFO is to Finance in the organization, CPO is to the product. Traditionally organizations have had fragmented responsibilities in terms of product ownership within the organizations. Product Management/Product Marketing looks at the product more from the strategy and product vision perspective; CTO looks at the same product more from design and development perspective; while VP Engineering is more responsible from an execution or product development angle. Almost 80-85% of the organizations with whom I have interfaced have typically been organized in this fashion. However, I have started seeing that many organizations have started having second thoughts on the dispersion of these responsibilities. Hence the role of CPO – someone who looks at product from an end-to-end perspective; someone who can act as a visionary and at the same time be realistic in terms of execution also; seems to be getting into prominence.
IMO, there are also some other factors which is possibly forcing organizations to think from a CPO perspective.
- For many products, especially the ones in end-Consumer oriented, technology has now started becoming a second fiddle. By technology becoming second fiddle is not to say that technology is not important. I mean that in such applications it is not the technology which drives the user pattern, but it is the user behavior which tends to drive the technology and engineering. In such applications, the head of the product needs to be more nearer to the customer rather than just getting driven by technology & engineering.
- More and more products are also becoming hybrid in nature i.e. products are getting built-up because of partnerships between multiple relationships. In products such as these, the need is to have someone with his/her responsibility spanning across vision and strategy, design and development, product marketing and management, and partnership management.
- On the similar lines as above point, as Engineering and Product Development is becoming more and more commodit’ized – many ISVs today are becoming more and more dependent on their partners in helping them out on this rather than growing an in-house expertise on technology front. So from an in-house expertise perspective, organizations have started looking the role of CPO with more interest.
I also think that by investing in a role of CPO, organizations have started becoming cognizant of the fact that they need to start becoming more inclusive in their product evolution and development side – both internally and externally.
I would love to hear your thoughts – especially if you are/have played the role of CPO in your life. If you also have interacted any of the CPO out there, would love to hear your thoughts too.