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How to Hire and Evaluate Your Next Chief Product Officer

how to hire a CPO

Executive Summary

Every company needs a Chief Product Officer (CPO). Why? Because someone needs to champion a portfolio management approach that optimizes outcomes across the entire enterprise.

Managing a portfolio isn’t about the number of product lines or your platform’s size but rather about collaboration and managing complexity while delivering outcomes. When an organization is ready to mature its product management discipline and hit significant revenue growth milestones, it’s time to put a product leader at the executive table.

Here are a few questions to ask if you’re unsure that your company needs to hire a Chief Product Officer:

  • Are you yearning for a portfolio approach to balance the needs of customers, business goals (OKRs), and engineering capabilities to achieve the best product outcomes?
  • Do you want more flexibility, agility, and responsiveness when planning, strategizing and allocating resources?
  • Do you need someone who can achieve near-term results while maintaining a long-term vision with limited time and resources?
  • Are you looking for someone to continuously promote progress and share a single source of truth, driving transparency and trust across all teams?

Answering yes to the above is your sign—it’s time to bring in someone who can effectively collaborate with key functions involved in building and delivering products. 

In this post, I’ll share the top secrets to finding a phenomenal CPO and how to evaluate their impact. A special thanks to Melissa Perri, CEO of Produx Labs and the author of “Escaping the Build Trap,” who shared some of these secrets during her CPO Series Q&A

7 Traits to Look for in a Great CPO

Most great CPOs have more than just deep product-related experience. They possess the ability to build relationships with other functional leaders early and understand how the rest of the company operates.

These are the traits you should look for when searching for a CPO:

Takes initiative: CPOs need to take the initiative. They don’t just sit there and wait for permission to align cross-functional teams and get them to deliver outcomes. They constantly maximize their efforts toward achieving the company’s strategic goals. 

Forges relationships: From executive buy-in to team lead alignment, a great CPO is a master of maneuvering relationships and bringing teams together for a single, shared vision. They keep everyone on track for the short-term goals while helping them understand the long-term vision.

Financially savvy: A CPO should have deep experience with the business’s financials. They need to understand how the actual financials of the company work and be able to connect their strategies to their impact on the business model. The more a CPO is willing to dive into the finances and forge a relationship with the CFO, the more likely they will succeed.

Board-ready: Managing up and presenting to the board is no easy task. You need a CPO who can present their ideas clearly and discuss challenging problems in a very diplomatic, convincing, and straightforward way. The best CPOs are humble enough to admit mistakes and build true partnerships with board members by asking questions and listening.

Says no but explains why: It’s easy to say no. Most people stop there. A CPO says no in a way that helps everyone understand the “why.” This nuanced communication preserves relationships and allows everyone to move forward in the same direction.

Strategically-minded: Great CPOs leverage strategic frameworks that guide product decisions across all levels of the organization. They define the strategic drivers, standardize prioritization efforts, and allocate resources towards objectives (OKRs) and initiatives.

Makes data-driven decisions: CPOs make decisions based on data by measuring outcomes to influence the next iteration of product strategy. They assess resourcing needs, progress tracking, and scenarios using real-time data. A responsive approach to planning, strategizing, and allocating allows CPOs to adjust their plans dynamically.

Check out this clip from our CPO Series of Melissa Perri where she reveals what she looks for when hiring a Chief Product Officer: https://youtu.be/lFProLlXwOc

Should You Promote Someone to VP or Hire a CPO?

Depending on the company’s size, you could have a VP of Product while also needing to bring on a CPO. 

A VP of Product typically:

  • Manages and scales one or two products
  • Focuses on coaching and mentoring product managers

A CPO typically:

  • Collaborates and aligns the C-suite on the right business strategy to execute
  • Connects financial outcomes and product roadmaps back to what the C-suite’s doing 
  • Interfaces with the board and with the rest of the executives
  • Focuses on building teams underneath them that can scale

“What it really comes down to is understanding the ROI and making sure that you get ROI from your product investments. That’s what a Chief Product Officer is going to bring to the table. They’re going to make sure that you are building the right things that will get a return for your company. And they’re making sure that you can scale appropriately with that.”

Melissa Perri

Evaluate Your CPO Against These 5 Areas

The most successful Chief Product Officers make an impact within their first 90 days. However, they don’t worry about massive, overarching changes right away. Instead, they focus on:

  • Using curiosity to assess the current situation
  • Building deep relationships while aligning goals
  • Introducing new internal structures but not sweeping changes
  • Providing a source of truth that brings org-wide visibility

If you’re a new CPO and haven’t formalized your success plan, read this: The 90-Day Success Plan for New Chief Product Officers.

If your CPO has been in place, here are the key criteria you should use to evaluate their impact:

Product Strategy

Your CPO should be the driving force in developing the product strategy, including honing key persona targets, as well as the product’s value proposition, segmentation, price, and monetization strategies. They should also create, maintain, and share portfolio-level views of the product roadmap while championing the long-term vision. A CPO understands that the best product strategy is developed across the entire leadership team and is only successful if there is alignment from all teams from development through execution.

Product Management

If the company views the product team as a strategic partner versus just an order taker, your CPO is doing something right. This means your CPO has developed the core product management discipline leveraging people, processes, and product portfolio management tools to distribute responsibilities across the entire team to accelerate outcomes.

Metrics and Process

Successful CPOs track and monitor metrics and take a data-driven approach to product operations. They use data to align priorities across revenue, customers, operations, and business stakeholders. They also know how to manage financial outcomes and share these with the broader organization. A CPO should have a successful track record of systematically developing and implementing across the core product management process and can demonstrate they know how to lead an organization through transformative changes.

Org Builder and Coach

A Chief Product Officer should have a proven track record of hiring and developing your product organization. They know how to drive top-down alignment while empowering loosely coupled teams with bottom-up innovation—keeping everyone aligned on short-term goals and the larger-scale vision. Across the product org, you should see a balance of employees your CPO has brought on: former colleagues, new employees, and teammates promoted from within. At the end of the day, the CPO creates a culture of trust, motivating the entire team to execute and deliver results. 

Internal Collaboration

The primary job of a Chief Product Officer is to drive business outcomes while effectively collaborating with critical functions involved in building and delivering products. They should be orchestrating deep collaboration between product, design, customer success, marketing, and engineering. CPOs create a cohesive framework that connects vision and goals with initiatives and features while guiding each team’s best practices and decision-making. They plan roadmaps and assess allocation in real-time across all product levels, perform trade-off analyses with functional leaders, and prioritize within the context of business goals, customer needs, and product strategies using MoAR (or their own customize prioritization framework).

Conclusions

If your organization is ready to accelerate portfolio outcomes, consider bringing in a Chief Product Officer to lead the charge. In today’s landscape, you need someone who can:

  • Connect objectives with initiatives
  • Build data-driven roadmaps
  • Collaborate with cross-functional leaders
  • Adjust allocation based on outcomes

A successful CPO will bring strategic clarity across all levels of the organization. They’ll also drive responsive execution that delivers against your company’s goals. If you’ve been striving for a balance of long-term vision and short-term outcomes, a great CPO will do exactly that. 

So, don’t wait. Now is the time to elevate your product organization and balance the right outcomes at the right time—with a CPO bringing everything together.

PS: Don’t miss it – Chief Product Officers from market-leading companies like Shopify, Pendo, and Procore are sharing their unique insights during our CPO Series. Check out the line-up and register to join the next session

Becky Flint

Becky Flint

Becky is a product and tech executive based in the Silicon Valley. She has built and scaled product and engineering teams globally for both startups and Fortune 500 companies. Currently Becky is the founder and CEO of Dragonboat with a mission to empower responsive leaders and their teams to build better products faster. Prior to founding dragonboat, Becky has held executive roles at Feedzai, Bigcommerce, Tinyprints/ Shutterfly, and PayPal.
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Dragonboat is a purpose-build product portfolio management tool for outcome driven product organizations that connects goals, customers, initiatives, resources and execution in one integrated platform. Dragonboat enables product portfolio management best practices and requeres no changes to you engineering process.

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