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Mastering Product Leadership: 13 Valuable Lessons from Top Chief Product Officers in 2023

Exploring Key Insights from The CPO Series: Achieving Results, Innovation, and Leadership

The CPO Series, hosted by Dragonboat, gathers top Chief Product Officers and product executives sharing leadership, strategy, and growth insights. In this summary of the 2023 webinar series, we’ll explore their valuable wisdom that underlines the crucial role of product leaders in today’s business world.

13 Key Takeaways from the 2023 CPO Series

We’ve uncovered key themes among Chief Product Officers from leadership, to outcome focused best practices, to strategy and growth insights, providing valuable guidance and ideas to take back to your organization. These takeaways are pivotal in implementing the lessons learned into your daily product management routines.

Drawing from discussions on strategic planning, aligning outcomes, monetizing your product portfolio and more–we’ve distilled practical approaches you can apply to drive tangible growth in your role as a product leader. 

Let’s dive in!

Leadership Insights

1. “The Journey to CPO: What Makes a Good Product Leader Great?”

Featuring Malaika Paquiot, Product Executive Consultant and Former Chief Product Officer of Avalanche Insights

During this CPO Series with Malaika Paquiot, she shared leadership insights on the journey to becoming a Chief Product Officer. The 3 steps she recommended to create your own roadmap to great includes a self-assessment, identifying needs, then addressing the needs. 

Outlining the differences between a good and great product leader, how to actually demonstrate your greatness, and the steps to creating your own roadmap, Malaika emphasized this through it all: you must have the opportunity to demonstrate greatness to develop it. 

About the speaker: Malaika Paquiot is a seasoned Product Executive and former CPO of Avalanche Insights, with over 20 years of experience in the technology industry. With a diverse background in software engineering, engineering management, and product leadership, Malaika has led high functioning  teams in building products for Fortune 100, series B, A and seed stage startups.

2. “Navigating the Treacherous Trail: Strategic Insights for CPOs During Economic Turbulence”

Featuring Laura Marino, Chief Product Officer, Advisor, Board Member, and Stanford Lecturer

In this CPO Series, Laura Marino advised product leaders to stay customer focused and embrace an optimization mindset during economic turbulence. Macroeconomic change not only impacts you, but also your customers, so you should adapt your product roadmap to accommodate changing customer needs and priorities. Find efficiencies and prioritize investments with the most significant impact.

Laura also encouraged CPOs to foster alignment within the executive team, and to be prepared to make difficult decisions. Engage in discussions beyond product strategy, understanding the business and financial aspects of the company. You may need to consider cost reductions or restructuring to address existential threats.

Lastly, Laura reminded us to stay true to the company mission and values, communicate transparently and consistently, and create a strong foundation and culture to support your team during challenging times. Stay aligned across organizations and the entire company to ensure everyone understands changes, priorities, and tradeoffs.

About the speaker: Laura Marino is a Chief Product Officer, Board Member, Advisor to CEOs, and Stanford Lecturer. She has over 25 years of experience leading product teams in large and small B2B and B2B2C companies, including Nuance, Microsoft, Intapp, Lever, and more recently TrueML, a fintech company using AI to reinvent debt resolution.

3. “Surviving Existential Threats: Key Considerations for Effective Product Leadership”

Featuring Ezinne Udezue, Chief Product Officer of WP Engine

In a CPO Series featuring Ezinne Udezue, she shared her top tips and learnings to surviving existential threats, with over 20 years of experience in the industry.

During eras of peacetime, this means you have more resources, a competitive edge, growing market, and less pressures. On the contrary, and what our current environment is more like right now, is the wartime era. This typically includes macroeconomic challenges, high interest rates, consumer tech and landscape changes, debt, and high pressures.

During wartime, as a product leader, you must think from the lens of what to do NOW to survive another day and thrive for the future. Having a clear, well-defined product strategy is key to maintaining focus, and resources should be allocated to the most critical pieces of your strategy.

When you can clarify for your company and product what path to go down in order to truly win, everyone is aligned around decisions made and you can pivot strategically towards your goals. Ezinne shares that wartime puts pressure not only on leaders, but also teams. Acknowledge the pressures and respond to them as a supporter for your teams–everyone’s in it together.

About the speaker: Ezinne Udezue is the Chief Product Officer of WP Engine, where she leads teams in creating customer-inspired products in the web-enablement space. She’s worked on B2B & consumer solutions via Product Mind, a Product Advisory company she co-founded, and Product and leadership roles at T-Mobile/Deutsche Telekom, Time Inc, Discovery, Bazaarvoice, and Procore.

4. “A Better Way to Lead Large-Scale Change”

Featuring Han Yuan, Chief Technology Officer of Outdoorsy

Han Yuan participated in the CPO Series focusing on steering organizational transformations.

Drawing from his expertise, Han emphasized that these changes aim not merely to do more with less, but to drive strategic focus by eliminating inefficiencies and avoiding wasting investments on products with low ROI.

Achieving successful organizational changes demands outcome-centric portfolios and heightened visibility as key pillars, and equally as important, leaders should be communicating and talking about the WHY behind changes and decisions along the way.

About the speaker: Han Yuan is an accomplished Chief Product and Technology Officer with over 20 years of experience in guiding high-growth, high-scale organizations to new heights. He brings deep experience with organizational design, product strategy and operations, and software engineering with executive leadership roles at Recharge, Upwork, Netflix, and eBay.

Outcome-Focused Product Management Insights

5. “The Power of Alignment: Connecting Strategy, Execution, and Outcomes”

Featuring Lisa Schneider, Award-winning Chief Product Officer and Product Strategy Advisor

Lisa Schneider shared during the CPO Series that with the right alignment and focus, teams can connect strategy and execution for desired outcomes.

A common challenge for many initial entrepreneurial efforts is that founders, business owners, and executives tend to live and work in the solution space. This bias tends to push strategy into the tactics space by sketching solutions and making plans without getting clear on the problems to solve.

So, leaders need to make sure they spend enough time in the strategy space, before proceeding to the solution. Before roadmap planning, you should be aligned from a thought perspective, so you don’t create a roadmap with just a list of features.

Making responsive portfolio adjustments based on your business, industry, and the ever-changing market is crucial in order to achieve both long-term vision goals and near-term results.

About the speaker: Lisa Schneider is an award-winning CPO, frequent speaker, and podcast guest on product strategy and leadership, as well as a Webby Award winner and executive judge, accelerator mentor, and startup advisor. She’s used product innovation and cross-functional strategy to drive decisive business results across a range of categories, from established companies like Merriam-Webster to startups from social enterprise to fintech. 

6. “The Product Portfolio Approach: A Solution to Operational Chaos, Misalignment, and Bottlenecks to Drive Optimal Outcomes”

Featuring Perry Steinberg, Chief Product Officer of Symphony Talent

Perry Steinberg highlighted the significance of taking a responsive product portfolio approach to drive more optimal outcomes and faster results, during this CPO Series webinar.

Sharing from his experience, using Dragonboat’s platform for portfolio management provides product teams with a clear understanding of context behind decisions and prioritization, and a guiding principle that’s aligned with the company’s overarching goals.

Sure, you can take a product portfolio approach without using a tool, but it will be much more challenging. After a lot of time spent in spreadsheets, graphs, and powerpoint slides through the years, Perry expressed that these visuals were always pretty to look at, but never truly tied to anything beneath that. When there was a change, you had to figure out amongst a dozen spreadsheets where and how to fix it.

Through implementing a responsive framework, strategic process, and the right tool, Perry advises this is how businesses can row towards sustained success and achieve desired outcomes with a streamlined approach.

About the speaker: Perry Steinberg is a customer-centric technology executive, with 30 years of experience scaling and transforming global businesses. Perry has experience at all levels of software development from vision and strategy to planning and execution. In his role as Chief Product Officer of Symphony Talent, he leads the Global Product Management, Product Ops, User Design, Engineering and Architecture teams.

7. “Strategic Planning Must-Haves for Achievable Roadmaps and Outcomes”

Featuring Sarah Owen, Chief Product Officer of One Inc.

Sarah Owen joined the CPO Series for a session on how strategic planning provides focus and ensures the entire company is rowing in the same direction.

For achievable roadmaps and outcomes, aligning your roadmap with strategy ensures you’re delivering value and supporting business needs. When strategic goals become the guardrails that you use to prioritize work, it allows for proactive development rather than reactive.

Sarah also outlined the differences for planning between a start-up, mid-sized or growth, and mature stage organization. Start-ups should be focusing on the short-term plan within the next 1-2 quarters, while mid-sized or growth stage should consider the longer term strategic plan within the next 6 quarters, and mature orgs should look at multi-year strategies and financials. So as we can see, strategic planning is not a one size fits all.

Lastly, Sarah covered product planning frameworks, with a couple examples of different prioritization methods you can use such as MoAR and monthly prioritization reviews.

About the speaker: Sarah Owen has over 20 years of experience driving innovation in the Fintech space and is Chief Product Officer at One Inc, responsible for leading teams to deliver against the company’s roadmap. Prior to joining One Inc, Sarah was the SVP of Consumer Engagement Products at TSYS with additional senior leadership roles at WorldPay, Heartland, and First Data Corporation.

8. “How To Deliver Great Products Faster”

Featuring Mirela Mus, Founder & Chief Product Officer of Product People

This CPO Series featuring Mirela Mus dives into strategies to deliver great products faster. Succeeding in this endeavor requires a fundamental shift from emphasizing outputs to prioritizing outcomes, ensuring that the product significantly impacts the business and delivers tangible results.

Mirela underscored the evolving landscape of Product-Led Growth in 2023, stressing the current necessity for companies to create products capable of organic sales growth, especially amid constraints of reduced finances and resources.

Lastly, Mirela highlighted the significance of outcome-driven Chief Product Officers adopting a Responsive Product Portfolio Management (Responsive PPM) approach. This approach serves to connect strategy and execution to define goals, align strategies, evaluate allocation based on what’s working, what’s not, and what needs to be adjusted.

About the speaker: Mirela Mus is the Founder & CPO of Product People, the premier destination for Product Management services in Europe. Mirela personally serves clients ranging from Zalando to Omio and The World Health Organization. Her background is in Computer Science plus an MBA. She’s been doing Product Management for over 12 years, half of them in a leadership role.

9. “Designing with the Outcome in Mind”

Featuring Matt Wallaert, Founder of BeSci.io

Matt Wallaert joined the CPO Series to share his expertise on designing with the outcome in mind, honing in on why to start with outcomes instead of processes.

When we build products, we often have very specific behavioral goals in mind, things we want users not just to think and feel but actually do. And yet our design process rarely takes what we know about changing behaviors into account.

Matt explained that everyone can incorporate behavioral science into what they do, no PhD required, and furthermore how the cycle of behavioral strategy, insights, design, and impact evaluation can help us build products and services that change behavior.

About the speaker: For almost 20 years, Matt Wallaert has been applying behavioral science to practical problems. After leaving academia, his career as an executive lead from startups to the Fortune 500 and back again, before founding BeSci.io (Behavioral Science in organizations), where he and the world’s most experienced behavioral science leaders help companies grow applied behavioral science capabilities within their organizations.

Strategy and Growth Insights

10. “Break the Build Trap: How to Shift your PM Organization from Requirements Production to Customer Impact”

Featuring John Field, Vice President of Product Management at Talogy

Product Leader John Field participated in the CPO Series, offering his time-tested strategies for guiding requirement-focused Product Managers toward making significant customer impacts.

John emphasized mindset shifts for PMs, encouraging them to adopt a business owner’s perspective for their platform rather than functioning solely as business analysts, and he highlighted the importance of being trusted advisors instead of requirements writers and backlog builders.

Then tactically, to elevate your product management team to a more efficient and well-established level, it’s crucial to establish clear and collaborative processes. To help drive this organizational shift towards an outcome-oriented product approach, John leverages Dragonboat as a tool to centralize requests, develop roadmaps, and strategize go-to-market launches.

About the speaker: John Field is the VP of Product Management at Talogy, where he owns the product strategy and roadmap aligned with the overall corporate strategy. He ensures that platforms are continually improving for clients and the participants who are experiencing assessments. Prior to Talogy, John held engineering and product management leadership positions at National Instruments, IBM, and a variety of B2B SaaS startups.

11. “Mastering Responsive PPM: Tips for Effective Product Development”

Featuring Anupam Gupta, Chief Product Officer of Applied Systems

In a CPO Series session featuring Anupam Gupta, he walked us through strategies for efficient product development, emphasizing the responsive product portfolio approach and framework.

Anupam advocates for team success by fostering portfolio-wide planning and leveraging a product portfolio tool to provide visibility and context across the organization. He mentioned the importance of remaining adaptable to evolving market demands, particularly when making crucial tradeoff decisions.

Moreover, Anupam discussed the pivotal role of a CPO in adding value across various stages of a company’s growth, emphasizing the significance of tailoring an overarching product strategy based on the company’s current phase.

About the speaker: As Chief Product Officer of Applied Systems, Anupam Gupta is responsible for the company’s product vision and product management teams. Formerly, Anupam was also CPO at 4C Insights and he’s also led product organizations for several tech companies, including at Vubiquity, Mixpo, and Microsoft among others.

12. “Lead Mission Critical IT Portfolios With Confidence Through Dragonboat”

Featuring Dominiek Leenknecht, Chief Information Officer of ECS

In this CPO Series with Dominiek Leenknecht, the Chief Information Officer of ECS, he delved into his strategies for optimizing ECS’s digital transformation journey and steering the IT portfolio teams towards success.

After implementing a standardized framework with structured planning and prioritization processes through Dragonboat’s platform, he was able to effectively translate long term plans into actionable short term goals, and enable organizational visibility and progress tracking to keep stakeholders well informed. He highlighted significant improvements for the IT portfolio, with a notable increase in on-time project deliveries and an 80% workload reduction.

About the speaker: Dominiek Leenknecht has over 20 years of experience as an IT professional in various sectors, including consultancy and high-tech development. He started in 2022 as CIO at ECS, where he leads a team of 50 IT professionals and oversees product. To make sure that the teams focus on the right priorities and that new digital transformation programs can be kicked off, Dominiek set up a pragmatic IT project and governance approach in which Dragonboat plays a significant role.

13. “Monetization Matters: Managing Your Product Portfolio For Innovation And Growth”

Featuring Lydia Varmazis, Chief Product Officer of RBCx

The focus of this CPO Series webinar with Lydia Varmzis centers on monetization and pricing strategies aimed at driving revenue growth. Lydia emphasized the challenge of achieving profitability in B2B SaaS, highlighting that prioritizing profit over immediate customer growth ultimately yields the most reward.

To succeed, CPOs must adopt an outcome-focused approach with strategic roadmaps, effectively allocating resources, and developing products and services that deliver value to all stakeholders.

Lydia also delved into various pricing strategies, pricing ownership across functions, and the key levers required to deliver impactful growth.

About the speaker: Lydia Varmazis is a seasoned and strategic Product Executive, bringing over 25 years of expertise in envisioning, launching, and commercializing transformative product solutions. Lydia’s track record highlights a unique ability to conceive and develop products from inception to market success while crafting long-term strategic plans that align internal and external stakeholders, driving revenue growth and scalability.

Conclusion: Learn and Hear More Product Leadership Conversations

You can access the complete CPO webinar series here to hear from other industry leaders, and explore the series’ resources, stay connected, and keep an eye out for more upcoming sessions.

A huge thank you goes out to the Chief Product Officers, participants, and the wider community whose engagement and support have enriched this series. Together, we’ve elevated conversations about product management and leadership, and we’re looking forward to many more!

Christina Lau

Marketing Manager and Rower at Dragonboat
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