“The Customer-First Organization”: The Rise of the Chief Product Officer – Full 2021 Edition
Technology and InnovationTransformation InnovationTechnology, Data, and DigitalAssessment and BenchmarkingTeam Effectiveness
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Sean Roberts
December 18, 2020
13 min read
Technology and InnovationTransformation InnovationTechnology, Data, and DigitalAssessment and BenchmarkingTeam Effectiveness
The most advanced companies are developing technology platform offerings, becoming convenors of eco-systems and gaining invaluable insights into customer behavior.
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Participants

We would like to thank all of our participants for their insights and time.

Ben Fox CPO, AdTech, Verizon Media

Martin Eriksson Co-Founder, Mind the Product; CPO in Residence, EQT Ventures

Brian Harris SVP Product, Nets Group

Micah Collins Director, Product Management at Facebook

David Cramer CEO, So.ware and Data, CPA Global

Phil Farhi Head of Product Strategy, Pinterest

David Katz CPO, A.erpay

Ron Gura Co-Founder and CEO, Empathy; Former SVP Product, WeWork

Deep Bagchee CPO, Economist

Satnam Singh VP Product Management at Oracle

Johannes Bruder CPO, Delivery Hero

Sharad Rastogi CPO, JLL Technologies Former SVP, CPO, Dell

Josh Crossick CPO, letgo

Shiva Rajaraman Former CTO, WeWork and former VP, Product, Spotify

Kriti Sharma VP Product, GfK

Sunjay Pandey Founder & CEO, Woven Money; Former VP Product, Capital One

Maha AlEmam MD Digital Products, Apple Retail

Tanya Cordrey Founder, Granary Square; Partner, AFK Partners

Markus Pultweiser CDO, Deutsche Bank

TJ Grewal Former CPO, Soraa, and CPO, Beats by Dre

 

Adapting to constant innovation and transformation has become the only way to compete in a rapidly disrupting market landscape

Every company must think and act like a technology company to remain relevant in the current competitive landscape.

We are in the age of the empowered customer. In both B2C and B2B alike, the customer is more empowered than ever before, with more data (both performance and social) to support their decision making, and lower barriers to switching loyalties. For leaders, this has created an imperative to structure and build organizations which can listen to customers and respond at speed. The cost of inaction is irrelevance.

Technology has become central to remaining competitive, both to enable the iterative cycles required to constantly optimize products, but also as a stimulus for demand. In both our client interactions and in conversations with top product leaders, we’ve seen a rising need for chief product officers (CPOs) who are tech savvy, commercial and customer-focused.

The most advanced companies are developing platform offerings, becoming convenors of eco-systems and gaining invaluable insights in doing so. The product function has been at the eye of this storm, accelerating new approaches to the market and lubricating customer-focused conversations across diverse functions, from marketing and technology to the lines of business. As a result, product has been given an increasingly loud voice with a seat at the top table, and the remit to actively drive change and revenue growth. In building product functions, companies are creating a stabilising connective tissue between technology and the customer, allowing them to create new digital propositions, ways of working and to develop partnerships with technology organizations to broaden their reach.

THE MOST ADVANCED COMPANIES ARE DEVELOPING PLATFORM OFFERINGS, BECOMING CONVENORS OF ECO-SYSTEMS AND GAINING INVALUABLE INSIGHTS IN DOING SO. 

The product function is not new – what has changed?

The product function of the past would develop a product roadmap spanning two+ years, with strategies for application development and constant iteration until completion. Accordingly, product leaders were deeply technical but relatively removed from the customer. They often sat within the technology function, with long tenures in few organizations, focusing on requests from internal stakeholders.

In contrast, today’s product function rapidly develops products through ‘sprints,’ designing a wire-frame and getting out to market for real-time feedback as soon as possible. In line with these changes, advanced organizations have elevated the role of the CPO from back-office support staff to customer champion, with a focus on top-line growth.

Specifically, the Role Has Evolved in Three Key Ways:

  1. The CPO has become the C-suite role charged with advocating for the customer across all functions, from perfecting the customer digital experience to developing new products.
  2. The CPO oversees a product function which connects technology capabilities and go-to-market channels to
    the needs and goals of the business – acting as a diplomat between them.
  3. The technology-driven product function allows for greater speed to market to gain real-time feedback.

Above all, what differentiates customer-centric organizations is their ability to stay one step ahead of the market, pinpointing the products that customers genuinely need and want but have not yet imagined. Product functions that are able to iterate quickly and respond to the customer at -- or ahead of -- pace have a critical competitive advantage.

“Product Leaders have evolved from being the builders, to the architects, to commercial leaders. As builders, they worked off a roadmap typically handed to them by the business. As architects, they envisioned how the product would be built, and how the user experience would be designed. But now as commercial leaders, Product leaders move from strategic to visionary, looking for the market opportunity, then organizing the design, scalability, reliability, security, infrastructure, and all the other aspects to get to market.” -Satnam Singh, VP Product Management at Oracle

“Product became a specialization itself, moving from output driven to outcome driven, becoming smarter on how the tech is built, developing communications with the c-suite, and deeply focusing on customer discovery.” -Deep Bagchee, CPO, Economist

The ideal product leader needs a broad skill set - but be prepared to make some trade-offs

Today’s product leaders span a wider variety of competencies than their historical counterparts

For product leaders, previous titles or functions are less important than their ability to span the breadth of experience necessary for success. Expansive-thinking product leaders come from a range of backgrounds including technology, business and marketing, to mention a few. While many senior technologists have been too far removed from the customer, and chief marketers may lack the technology depth and skills required, the ideal product officer spans enough of these areas to draw the functions together cohesively.

Whether transforming legacy organizations or scaling digital natives, the best product leaders look the same. First, being the advocate for the customer is at the core of their remit, so direct customer experience and commercial acumen are must-haves. Secondly, technology understanding; although the levels may vary according to the type of product leader required, technology expertise is needed to command the respect of the technology function and build a successful partnership. Thirdly, defining a well-considered roadmap requires exceptional stakeholder management skills and a strategic mindset, along with the ability to balance a multitude of requests against the related trade-offs.

  • CUSTOMER-CENTRIC
    Customer obsessive
    Building a USP/differentiator
    Data-driven
    Service delivery
     
  • STRATEGIC
    Connectivity between functions
    M&A and Parterships
    Product strategy and
    management
    Prioritization
     
  • TECHNICAL LITERACY
    Complex environments
    Agile/dev-ops experience
    Innovation
    Engineering capability
     
  • COMMERCIAL ACUMEN
    Alignment to stakeholders
    Pricing and investment
    Relationships
    Translating technology

"The type of skillsets you’d hire for depend on the direction of the organization. For example, if you’re transitioning from a Hardware-centric to SaaS-centric business, you may require marketing and pricing talent with software experience. If you have a glut of customer-centric talent, you may need to balance the team with internally focused talent." -Sharad Rastogi, CPO, JLL Technologies Former SVP, CPO, Dell

These requirements hold true across both B2C and B2B product functions. They may be more clear-cut in the B2C environment, where products tend to get updated more regularly and across a wide range of channels, and historically have had more of an aesthetic focus than B2B counterparts. Increasingly, however, B2B organizations are incorporating a B2C mentality, with the understanding that customers appreciate intelligent interactions with products at work as much as they do at home. Strong design approaches, a push for good user experience, and ultimately a desire to automate low-value tasks are driving B2B companies such as Slack, SAP, Salesforce and Microsoft. Both B2C and B2B share the goal of allowing their customers more time for productive interaction, rather than repetitive tasks.

“How you react to the market depends on the type of environment; The Enterprise side is slower moving, and has a more risk averse audience. The consumer side is the opposite – fast-paced and predicting unforeseeable market trends” -TJ Grewal , Former CPO, Soraa, and CPO, Beats by Dre

“In the enterprise software world, Product plays a very different role in relation to quarter-to-quarter revenue and business outcome responsibilities. If this accountability falls onto the sales leader, then the Product leader has more room to think about building products. If the business model is such that Product Development is the primary driver of both short term and long term outcomes then you need to think very carefully about how to create the right space for both within a single org” -Phil Farhi, Head of Product Strategy, Pinterest

“The way product looks like depends on whether you’re in consumer or enterprise companies and what you’re responsible for. As a Product Manager at a B2C organization, you’re making a call from the perspective of the customer; it’s very commercial. But at other enterprise companies, product management and project management can blur into one.“ -Maha AlEmam, MD Digital Products, Apple Retail

Great span across all of these is rare, and trade-offs will have to be made

In reality, it is extremely rare to find executives who are strong in each quadrant. Short of a product leader who has a computer science degree, studied design, earned a Harvard MBA, has worked both in start-ups and legacy companies, is commercially-oriented, and has a very high EQ, trade-offs will be necessary.

The most common trade-off scenarios that we encounter are:

  • Experience scaling a native digital firm vs. Experience transforming a legacy firm
  • Commercial Acumen vs. Technical expertise
  • Innovative and Visionary vs. Execution-oriented

“Product Managers need low egos, high empathy, and strong collaboration skills. Adaptability and intellectual humility are also very durable attributes” -Micah Collins, Director, Product Management at Facebook

“Critical soft skills include collaboration, strategic acumen, resilience, execution orientation, good business judgement, and relationship skills. This will serve to create a clear vision of direction, the drive to bring the strategy into existence, and the ability to say no without disrupting business relationships” -Sharad Rastogi, CPO, JLL Technologies Former SVP, CPO, Dell

To make smart trade-offs, it is essential to have a clear vision of what success looks like in the role, and where direct reports may be able to compensate for leadership gaps. For example, corporates in transformation may want to know how they can maintain current success while also producing game-changing innovation, for which commercial acumen is key. Meanwhile digital natives may have a greater need for technical expertise and marketing experience in order to scale successfully and solidify brand perception. Either way, a high-performing product structure hinges on every function and process working as cohesively as a well-oiled machine – and it is the product leader who has to bring it all together.

"One of the things I love about product management is that people enter it because they have a real passion for connecting people and technology or people and digital experiences." -Brian Harris, SVP Product, Nets Group

Looking ahead, as the need for new CPO profiles grow, product leaders have the opportunity to create purposedriven structures and programs that train junior talent into tomorrow’s leaders. In this sense, the ideal CPO will be one who is strong both in attracting and developing talent.

"For your talent to progress, connecting with internal and external communities of practice is crucial. Managers in a product function should be responsible for coaching junior team members, especially on the soft skills. They need to create opportunities for hands-on learning of managing stakeholders and communicating ideas." -Martin Eriksson, Co-Founder, Mind the Product; CPO in Residence, EQT Ventures

“Some of the big challenges come to recruiting the right people as companies evolve. The talent who bring value to a certain level in the early days of a product/startup, i.e. run really hard and scrappy at a problem, might not be the type of thinkers to bring you to the next level, i.e. people who know how to think in terms of systems that really scale. Unlike the fundamentals of being a PM, e.g. project execution, market research, these are harder skills to teach and you often need to bring people in who've been exposed to what the next level of scale looks and feels like.” -Phil Farhi, Head of Product Strategy, Pinterest

Organizations are focusing too much on hiring an all-inone product leader and instead need to focus on hiring a balanced team.

Product functions are broadly made up of three types of talent – all of which are needed for success

The most common mistake our clients make is believing that an innovative software engineer will be the sole answer to their transformation problems. The Product function is complex, and trying to subsume the ability to innovate, scale, and optimize a product under one technical, project-managing wizard is unlikely to yield results. Simon Wardley originally used the three main archetypes ‘Pioneer, Settler, and Town-Planner’ to describe strategy profiles, but these were adopted by Jonathan Golden to build the product function in Airbnb. Extrapolating from these, we have created three new profiles that we believe best represent the market talent landscape: Innovator, Optimizer and Scaler. It is worth mentioning that the profiles below have been exaggerated for illustration purposes, and in reality, there will be much overlap afforded through experience and need.

The Innovator is the painter of the product vision, identifying a market need and formulating a solution. Innovators are the cornerstone in a new product function or start-up. The Optimizer comes in at a later stage to move the product into the market, test for impact and help speed up the iteration processes. The Scaler becomes important in mature product functions and multi-product environments to scale production and achieve sustainable growth. These three distinct types together create balance between innovation, commerciality, and the customer. Although all three are needed to find a path to solution, their relative weight may vary depending on the scale of the organization.

CPO1.png

“It’s always more about the team than the individual. Sure, maybe you need a base hierarchy -- for coaching purposes more than anything -- but product at its heart is always about collaboration among equals bringing different strengths to the table.” -Martin Eriksson, Co-Founder, Mind the Product; CPO in Residence, EQT Ventures

“As a Product leader, you have to balance the product market, the product strategy, and the business model. There’s a tendency for product leaders to jump straight to the business model without really understanding the fundamental or underlying market drivers” -Satnam Singh; VP Product Management at Oracle

“Much of product is the art of persuasion. Choose the dialectic (thesis, antithesis, synthesis) that gets your team to buy in to what you are trying to do, and coach them towards the end goal.” -Sunjay Pandey; Founder & CEO, Woven Money; Former VP Product, Capital One

The Innovator
The Innovator is responsible for planning and undertaking ‘sprints’, enabling business units with new products and revenue streams. With an entrepreneurial mindset, they will use a hypothesisled approach to build and iterate a new product. The Innovator will place resources into areas of the business that are most in need. They are uniquely placed to avoid the restraints of customer impact and scalability; as such, failure is accepted as part of evolution. They are equally required and common in all product functions, from start-up to corporate.

Background and trade-offs: Innovators are likely to be entrepreneurial and may have a commercial background or deep technology and engineering expertise. Despite their ability to articulate a vision, it is unlikely that this profile will have the ability or the appetite to manage at scale unlike their counterparts. Note also that they may have a string of failed start-ups in their past, which importantly should not be a reason to dismiss them.

The Optimizer
The Optimizer often carries the title ‘Product Manager,’ and appears to be the profile that most commonly acts as leader of the entire product function. They understand the importance of measuring customer impact by staying close to customer needs and pain points, and iterating products as necessary. The Optimizer is hugely data and analytics-oriented, and will use extensive, constant AB testing to perfect and grow their work. The role lends itself to businesses that are beyond the start-up stage and are working towards multi-product offerings and organic growth.

Background and trade-offs: Optimizers have data, product, or business backgrounds most often, and are typically less technical, but more customer obsessed than their innovator and scaler counterparts. Their project management skills will bring all the pieces of the product puzzle together, meaning their lack of technical depth is more than made up for. They may not be particularly innovative but will have the ability to fertilize ground and positively enable innovation within the product function. Their ability to manage and develop people will prove important for the business.

The Scaler
The Scaler is brought in to future-proof and scale a business’ products and platforms efficiently, typically enabled by their depth of engineering expertise but. As such, this person will bring a vision and seek to accommodate the various directions in which the business strategy might expand. Their methods of scaling the business can take the form of partnerships, acquisitions, or organic growth, always aiming towards an agreed business target. The role is mainly found in businesses who have developed a product they are happy with, and who are now looking to get into multiple-markets and scale.

Background and trade-offs: Technology or technology consulting are at the heart of the Scaler’s experience, with a breadth of technical expertise and an ability to translate between the business strategy and the technology capabilities. They may not appear high-energy or innovative at first blush but will be driven by solving large, complex product puzzles by connecting them to commercial goals and the overall strategic vision of the business.

“Innovation doesn’t need only to be disruptive; innovation is also making things better, faster, cheaper – but whichever it is, the objective needs to be clear with metrics that matter for the organization.” -Sunjay Pandey; Founder & CEO, Woven Money; Former VP Product, Capital One

“There are two trends changing the role of product right now: 1) Increasingly, product leaders need to look beyond just product features and contemplate the full mix of services and support that ensure a great experience. Accordingly, many product leaders are evolving into single-threaded owners across product, engineering, design, analytics, and support. 2) As Product Leaders evolve into GMs they are learning P&L’s, often for the first time – it's important to understand the business model at a deeper level and find ways to achieve great product experiences efficiently. For many products this is an opportunity to innovate on how to deliver or support a product above and beyond designing the features.” -Shiva Rajaraman; Former CTO, WeWork and former VP, Product, Spotify

How to hire a CPO

Compensation is not the only way to attract and retain top talent; organizations must sell their vision and culture to enter the competitive product landscape

Talent in technology roles is fiercely fought over, and product talent is no exception

When we asked product leaders what would most attract them to a new organization, their answers largely revolved around how much impact they could make, and how much autonomy they would have. They wanted to hear what the company mission was and how they would be empowered to make it successful. They also wanted transparency, to hear from current executives about the challenges as well as the opportunities in charting the organization’s future direction. Their sense of mission is strong: many of our interviewees spoke about their unwillingness to leave roles mid project cycle as they had developed a unique sense of ownership for the product. All of their answers spoke to a passion for the end-user – the customer. 

SELL ME YOUR VISION

Product engineers are able to recognize when something is outdated – even before it really is. They will want to do something new and not just clean up a mess. This said, product talent will accept that an organization may not yet have scaled or is just starting on a transformation journey. Whichever the story, an organization should sell its future vision.

WHAT MAKES YOU DIFFERENT?

Taking someone out of a project mid-role takes some convincing. Every job offer says the company is data driven, customer and employee centric, has large impact etc. – so for those trying to hire, it is essential to work out what your organization’s differentiator is. Key points include how your culture is aligned to the speed and innovation of a product function and how it supports continuous learning.

WHAT WILL MY PERSONAL IMPACT BE?

Product and software talent will want to understand how much impact and autonomy they will have in the company. This is where an early-stage organization can shine. The Amazons and Apples are not necessarily always the most attractive, because although they have top-notch reputations, there is a concern about the extent of individual impact possible.

WHERE DOES PRODUCT SIT?

Where the product function sits often shows the organization’s commitment to the product strategy. The best place will differ and will be affected by the archetype and the business. However, most commonly, a CPO will want a seat alongside a chief technology officer, where both are equals and can create a healthy tension.

HOW WILL YOU ENSURE THAT I SUCCEED?

Make sure you sell a CPO candidate on their own development and explain that they will have a diverse range of opportunities in the role. The most successful organizations allow an annual training budget, time to keep up to date with technological trends, and time to build close contacts in the wider product community.

WHAT IS THE ORGANIZATION’S SOCIAL PURPOSE?

For example, are you broadening access to services by democratizing a product? Being able to explain the social purpose of the company doesn’t just land well with product talent, but with customers too. Product functions can then partner with marketing on how best to integrate the message for maximum market impact.

WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES?

Being open and honest about limitations is beneficial – address the elephant in the room straight away. For example, if you are trying to disrupt an industry but are a nontech traditional organization, how will you overcome this? Specifically, talent will want to know:

- Investment. Money is commitment, so how is the organization investing in this vision?

- Organizational barriers. What are they, structurally and culturally?

- Timeline. When do you want this investment and work to be realized? What is the time to completion?

"Talent acquisition is one of the biggest challenges; there is a shortage in supply. First, you are usually taking someone out of a project mid-role, which takes some convincing. What is your differentiator? Sell the vision and big-picture of your company. Secondly, there is no cookbook for hiring, but being open and honest about the limitations and opportunities early is beneficial. Thirdly, I would want to know: “How much impact as an individual am I going to have in the company I am joining" -Ron Gura, Co-Founder and CEO, Empathy; Former SVP Product, WeWork

“As you think about looking for talent that has the exposure to solving problems of massive scale, one of the challenges is that a lot of that exposure is concentrated in a few large companies that are able to pay top talent really well. Even with startup equity and upside, competing just on financials is an uphill battle. The primary selling point that the startup product leader has is the scope of the problem that you can offer in terms of the breadth of problem that they'll be in charge of. It's really important not to conflate scope and size of team. Startups often tackle broad problems with a team of one whereas a larger company tackles a narrower problem with a team of a dozen.”  -Phil Farhi; Head of Product Strategy, Pinterest 

“Outside of technical literacy, product leaders must have core soft skills, namely: ability to make judgements, a bias for action and results orientation, curiosity (especially asking questions rather than giving decisions), collaboration, and a desire to constantly be learning.” -Deep Bagchee; CPO, Economist  

Product is one of the rare fields where diversity in career background is a huge advantage – that is, coming from a non-traditional background, either not marketing or not technology. It’s about making it exciting to those individuals, and helping them understand what you’re going to do for them and having the environment where you can build their capabilities." -Brian Harris, SVP Product, Nets Group

How do other functions adapt to the creation of a product function

Organizations need to think holistically about their structure before building a product function

The product function can play a central role in the organization-wide transformation to agile and engineering methodologies. It is well-placed to act as diplomat, functioning as the glue that attaches engineering mindsets to the strategic aims of the company and translates end solutions into customer messages. Due to the connected nature of this role, product functions should sit alongside technology and marketing rather than reporting into either function. Two distinct partnerships are then formed with these functions:

The Marketing relationship is built around how Marketing and Product can partner in ‘nudging’ customers and activating customer behaviour towards in-product discovery.

The Technology relationship should have a healthy, fraternal tension. Product pushes technology for delivery and results, and to develop new initiatives rather than defaulting to a focus on feasibility. 

CPO2.png

“The CPO is essentially now a Digital GM – you need to orchestrate across multiple disciplines with the head of an artist, the mind of an engineer, and speech of a diplomat. Roadblocks are rarely complex technical problems, but relationship breakdowns between Engineering and Product Leaders so diplomacy is crucial.” -Sunjay Pandey; Founder & CEO, Woven Money; Former VP Product, Capital One

“In most orgs, Product is the grand facilitator, the center of gravity across cross-functional teams including engineering, design, marketing, business stakeholders, etc. Often this facilitation responsibility positions Product in an awkward spot -no one likes them - because they guide the team through tough prioritization decisions or alternative solutions. It's important that Product is empowered to make these tough calls but also finds ways to educate and include other voices to come to a decision.” -Shiva Rajaraman; Former CTO, WeWork and former VP, Product, Spotify

Product exists to translate the needs of the business into software engineering specifications, and has evolved to sit at the interface of Business, Design, Engineering, and the Customer – meaning fundamental changes to the organization structure will be needed.” -Kriti Sharma, VP Product, GfK

“Tension can be created when product and tech are split in the organization; it is best for them to report to the same leader, but this is not always possible. To avoid tension, keep communication open and transparent, be prepared to give the benefit of the doubt, and develop a relationship with trust at the center”. -Deep Bagchee; CPO, Economist

How do you bring the customer to the centre of the organization, and what does that really mean?

The product function should know the ‘why’ better than the CEO. The CEO will push for more features and bigger impact, but the product function will know the business case for it, what drives the customer interaction, and the data behind it all. The best product leaders will prioritise, deciding what must be built, what they would like to build, and what can they build that will surprise the customer. The customer is brought to the centre because product sits at the interface between building the solutions and getting them out to market.

Structures are then built around engaging the customer and metrics built to track this. These metrics usually consist of adoption of the product and engagement with the product, but the real success should also be measured by action based follow-on activity. In other words, it’s fantastic that the customer is using feature one, but how long until they use feature two and three? Onboarding the customer in the first place, and then tracking in-product discovery is key for perfecting the customer journey.

"First of all, Agile is a capability, it is not a strategy. Organizations try to adopt Agile but this will not answer all problems. It is a capability, and a very valuable one which has immediate operational benefits, but one that cannot permanently affect a firm’s competitive position unless there is a strategy behind it that helps the team take the right decisions at the right time to direct that capability." -Tanya Cordrey, Founder, Granary Square; Partner, AFK Partners

"Product is the connective tissue; as a leader in product, your own team may not necessarily report to you, the designers may not report to you, etc… you have to learn to get creative when managing that, and to collaborate even more widely." -Martin Eriksson, Co-Founder, Mind the Product; CPO in Residence, EQT Ventures

“The Product needs to connect on 3 layers: the API layer needs clean exchange of information between products and organizations, the KPI layer needs alignment, and the UI layer smooths the seams the gaps existing in the organization before they get to the user.” -Sunjay Pandey; Founder & CEO, Woven Money; Former VP Product, Capital One

“Other influencers of the Product role stem from: 1) Leadership: delegate like crazy; teams deliver products, not individuals. 2) Free time: design days so you can be free to connect dots, explore, and be a provocateur, and 3) Develop teams: be approachable, coach apprentices, and trust your team in step-up positions before they are ready.” -TJ Grewal; Former CPO, Soraa, and CPO, Beats by Dre

Customer centricity: balancing data and intuition to drive results for the customer

Speed to innovate, speed to react, and ultimately speed to market are core drivers. You can build in data capture mechanics at conception to create a live feedback loop, from which iterative processes are dynamically developed. However this would be only one part of the picture and, as such, the product function should work in close partnership with their stakeholders – often the business unit, the technology function for engineering and product design, and the marketing and go-to-market teams to help create an informed view of the bigger picture

"The product role is a nexus between technology, business, storytelling, and design – with strong leadership capability surrounding them." -Johannes Bruder, CPO, Delivery Hero

Many are taking a two-tacked approach by balancing a purely machine-centric approach to building a product and then iterating with a more human one. Hiring a series of PhD scientists can only get you so far before product talent needs to translate the findings into what they believe the customer may want – using a sort of ‘Product intuition’. Because of this, the best product talent will occasionally step over traditional go-to-market channels and speak for the customer themselves.

"Product ‘intuition’ is very important – the art is to balance the data, with where the market is going, and with what the customer will want." -Kriti Sharma, VP Product, GfK

Framework for discussion

Product leader profiles come in different varieties depending on your strategy, and the maturity of your product function. The following set of diagnostic questions can help inform and frame your thinking around the most appropriate talent for your needs.

CURRENT SITUATION

  • Is the product new to the market?
  • Is there product buy-in from the top team?
  • Is product development core to the business strategy?
  • Is product more aligned to marketing, or technology, or a business unit? 

PRODUCT CAPABILITY 

  • How sophisticated is the product function?
  • What are the processes/structure in place – e.g. waterfall, agile, full-stack tribes and squads?
  • Is the product team aligned to the business strategy?
  • Is the product function continuously iterating and innovating?
  • Is there a talent pipeline for the product function? Is the Product leader engaged in succession planning?

FUTURE PRIORITIES

  • Transform, grow, or innovate?
  • Are you looking to attract product talent with a new leader?
  • Are you looking to attract investment?
  • Are you looking to extend or consolidate your existing product portfolio?
  • Are you looking to reposition your existing products?
  • Growth through M&A and inorganic growth, or by farming the existing products?
  • Which of geographic expansion, diversification, consolidation, and targeting new demographics best describes you aim?

Authors

Veena Marr is a member of the firm’s Global Technology Sector and Customer Activation and Growth Practice. Based in London, Veena leverages a digital and legal background to guide clients through times of transformation, expansion and innovation. Veena brings her extensive experience in partnering with Product functions to help clients assess, develop and hire exceptional Product leaders.

Sean Roberts is a member of the Technology Sector and is responsible for the Technology team in London. With a focus on fast moving technologies including Cloud, Security, Data and AI, and with expertise in Software, Connectivity and Business and Professional Services, Sean advises, recruits and helps develop outstanding leaders for companies in growth and transformation.

George Head is a Knowledge Associate for the Technology Officers Practice, based in London. Working broadly across the technology sector, George is focused on identifying emerging trends and codifying the priorities outlined by our clients.