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chief product officer (CPO)

Contributor(s): Kate Brush

A chief product officer (CPO) is a C-level executive who is responsible for the strategy and execution of all product-related activities within an organization. A CPO's responsibilities begin in the product innovation and vision stages, continue through the marketing campaign and extend past the product's release. The chief product officer typically reports to the company's chief executive officer (CEO). The role is also sometimes referred to as the vice president (VP) of product or head of product.

A CPO's primary goal is to lead and facilitate product management teams to ensure they are creating products that deliver value to both the user and the business. To do this, chief product officers must align the needs and goals of both the product and the company. Additionally, CPOs benefit their organizations by:

  • Connecting companies to their clients through the evaluation of consumer needs, helping determine which products will experience high demand.
  • Meeting with investors and other stakeholders to present product proposals.
  • Recommending product development strategies that generate increased revenue through sales of the new product.
  • Determining how much new products should cost.

Additionally, CPOs must be able to communicate across various teams within the organization -- including designers, engineers and marketers -- to ensure the product successfully moves from its conception, through development and onto its release and distribution.

Role and responsibilities

The role of the chief product officer has become more important as most organizations have experienced a digital transformation. The CPO helps lead the company by maintaining a broad view of organizational goals, needs and successes while simultaneously focusing specifically on the product's objectives and needs.

The role of the CPO typically includes:

  • product vision
  • product innovation
  • product design
  • user research
  • product development
  • product marketing initiatives
  • product analytics and metrics

Some companies also put the CPO in charge of distribution, manufacturing and procurement.

The objectives of a chief product officer include leading and mentoring the product team; developing a vision and strategy for product creation; marketing and raising awareness for the product from its conception to its release; and providing research that facilitates informed problem solving and decision-making across the company.

To fulfill these objectives, chief product officers must:

  • be strong leaders and supervisors;
  • be capable of understanding and interpreting data;
  • possess strategic product vision skills;
  • understand marketing and publicity; and
  • remain sensitive to customers and users.

As a leader, the CPO manages the daily progression of all product-related activities. They are responsible for preventing organizational silos and ensuring projects are successful by facilitating communication between all involved teams and individuals.

The CPO is also responsible for supervising product management officers, such as the director of user experience (UX), the director of product marketing and the head of product analytics. In addition, the CPO should mentor these product management officers to ensure they are constantly improving their professional skills and receiving assistance when necessary.

Chief product officers must be able to understand and interpret data because they are responsible for making objective, data-driven decisions. This involves defining metrics related to product performance and continuously tracking them. Some metrics used by CPOs include:

  • revenue and profits
  • retention and turnover rates
  • user activity and engagement

In addition, CPOs use quantitative and qualitative data to determine whether a product or specific features are ready for the market.

Chief product officers must possess a strategic product vision that aims to create a scalable product portfolio that will increase the company's profitability. CPOs must ensure each product and its features are aligned with the organization's objectives; they must also confirm product sales strategies are reviewed, refined and supported. Furthermore, CPOs must support the product after its release to ensure it is consistently improved and that it continues to satisfy customers.

A large part of the strategic product vision is understanding target markets and audiences. As a result, CPOs are responsible for evaluating market trends and the competition's various marketing strategies. These practices will allow the CPO to then offer effective recommendations for product positioning and pricing.

The CPO must communicate and work with the marketing and communications departments to ensure each product is properly publicized. The chief product officer is responsible for all product exhibitions, related speeches and presentations at events. Furthermore, the CPO must organize all local and international marketing events, information, launches, conferences, demonstrations and press.

Throughout the product's lifecycle, the CPO is responsible for designing, improving and maintaining the product to guarantee it continues to satisfy customers; remaining sensitive to customers' needs and desires will facilitate this process.

One way to understand consumers is to meet with current and potential customers to understand what value or benefit they derive from the product and what can be done to improve the customer experience (CX). This will ultimately grow the customer base and increase sales volume.

Chief product officer vs. chief technology officer

Ultimately, the chief product officer and the chief technology officer (CTO) have the same goal: create and deliver the best possible user experience for customers and generate continuous value for the company. The CPO and CTO should work together to align the company's vision with their teams' work to build the best possible product for consumers.

The two roles differ in the approach they take to achieve these goals. The CPO focuses on the why of the product -- or the strategy and reason for its creation. The CTO focuses on the how of the product -- or the strategic approach to its development and delivery.

As a result, the CPO is responsible for ensuring the product continues to adjust to changing conditions and satisfies the overall organizational objectives. The CTO is responsible for managing how the development or product management teams will use technology to improve the products or services they produce. This work usually includes cost-benefit and return on investment (ROI) analyses to determine which solutions or platforms will be most cost effective and profitable.

In addition, the CPO focuses on remaining sensitive to customer insights to drive product decisions while the CTO relies on the CPO's knowledge of the customer base to deliver value through technology. Consequently, CPOs must understand customer desires and behaviors while CTOs use their technical knowledge to ensure tech applications reflect the way customers interact with the product.

Furthermore, while the chief product officer evaluates qualitative and quantitative data related to the product experience, the chief technology officer measures key performance indicators (KPIs) and performance metrics that are associated with the development teams and product performance.

How to become a chief product officer

The educational requirements for a CPO are:

  • Minimum of a bachelor's degree in business, economics, IT product management, computer science, marketing, psychology or other related subjects.
  • Many employers also prefer applicants with a master's or doctoral degree.

Most organizations look for various job skills, including:

  • marketing experience
  • leadership abilities
  • communication and public speaking skills
  • problem solving and decision-making abilities
  • strong interpersonal skills
  • creativity
  • teamwork skills

In addition, CPO job candidates possess many years of high-ranking product management experience.

This was last updated in February 2020

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