Ben Horowitz penned an article of Peacetime CEO vs Wartime CEO, in which he called out different approaches needed in leading companies during different times.
As we know, when product wins, business has a chance to win; and when product fails, business will fail soon after. It’s not too far of a stretch to apply the same framework of leadership practice for Chief Product Officers (“CPOs”). That is, there are styles and techniques for a Peacetime CPO and for a Wartime CPO.
What Does Peacetime Look Like?
According to Ben, “Peacetime in business means those times when a company has a large advantage vs. the competition in its core market, and its market is growing. In times of peace, the company can focus on expanding the market and reinforcing the company’s strengths.” For example, Google has enjoyed a very long peacetime where Google search dominates the market with very high return.
What Does Wartime Look Like?
“In wartime, a company is fending off an imminent existential threat. Such a threat can come from a wide range of sources including competition, dramatic macro economic change, market change, supply chain change, and so forth.” An example is when Steve Jobs returned to Apple when it had only a few weeks of cash runway.
What Time Are We In Now – Peacetime or Wartime?
By default, all startup CPOs are wartime CPOs – you are competing with big established players. You have a limited run way. If you are a CPO or head of product in a startup, you are a wartime CPO.
In today’s fast evolving technology landscape and post 0% interest rate era- peacetime has turned into wartime.
There is hardly a company not in wartime now. Even for Google or Facebook, both had for decades enjoyed a major lead against competitors in an expanding market. And now both fighting their existential threat from AI and newcomers.
How Do You Transition Into The Wartime CPO Practice?
Assume you are already in wartime mode or you are moving into wartime mode, how would the CPOs operate differently?
First, let’s see the two styles in more detail.
How Does A Peacetime CPO Lead?
- Set BHAG – big hairy audacious goals
- Encourage more exploring, debating.
- Explore market opportunities.
- Give broad autonomy to teams.
- Not rushing. Efficiency is not important. Team can use any tool or process, from spreadsheet, slides to any bottoms up individually selected tools as decision speed is not a high priority.
How Does A Wartime CPO Lead?
Wartime CPOs ask lots of questions and evaluate much closer on the changing landscape. Here are some of the key characteristics.
- Focus – Where are we investing now? How much are we investing for next quarter, next year, vs the next 5 years? (Check out how to run outcome-focused strategic planning )
- Speed – How can we move faster? Where is the bottleneck? Is GTM keeping up with feature releases? Products create no value if not in the hands of customers.
- Outcome – Is the product moving needles, now? Are we hitting the target? Are we getting ahead of competition? (Check out our insider’s guide to accelerating outcomes Ebook).
- Responsive – What does it take to make adjustments? Need a source of truth of data for speedy quality decisions. (Check out Responsive Portfolio Management Explained).
- Efficiency – How can we do more with less? What process improvements may we implement? How can we reduce inadvertent investment mistakes? Check out how to Lead Strategic Annual Planning to Achieve More With Less ).
What Changes Should You Make?
Transitioning from peacetime CPO to wartime CPO requires much more than just leadership style change. The entire organization must adjust too. How do you make it happen quickly without “burning down the house”?
Here are some tips and learnings from CPOs who have done this before.
Communicate The Change
Not everyone recognizes the change or needs for it. Leaders must communicate to align the team on the “why”. So they are not blindsided by the changes, or resist them.
Have The Right Process And Cadence In Place
- Change your PDLC or roll out one if you don’t have it defined “on paper”. PDLC outlines how everyone in the product org, and those in GTM collaborate. (Check out PDLC playbooks for outcome focused CPOs)
- Have a more repeatable cadence of planning and communication. Speed and focus requires repeatable operating cadences. Everyone needs to know what’s expected and where to find information.
Have The Right Platform
When speed and focus are required in the collaboration across many teams and functions, an integrated platform is essential, not a nice to have.
Moving fast should not be the reason for “(having) some babies thrown out with the bathwater” like what has happened at Twitter.
Using a platform like Dragonboat, you will have immediate visibility on how to make shifts in allocation quickly with data to preserve the most critical talent when adjustment is unavoidable.
With Dragonboat run your product operating system to orchestrate the cross functional teams to:
- Make effective, focused product investment decisions to drive revenue or lead competitors
- Watch outcome closely to adjust roadmap and priorities swiftly
- Manage your resources effectively to reduce bottlenecks and blocking dependencies.
- Still invest in the future, quarters or years out, just not decades out.
To learn how Dragonboat helps CPOs and product leaders from both startups and Fortune 100 to complete and succeed effectively, schedule a call with our experts.