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Why CPOs are critical in an agile business
Wed, 24th Oct 2018
FYI, this story is more than a year old

The list of executives within an organisation grows as the business landscape becomes more complex, and over the years we have seen the rise of the Chief Product Officer (CPO). CPOs are more common than some may realise – product companies are fuelled by technology and innovation to retain and gain new customers. Positive customer experiences are crucial to commercial success, and the CPO's role is to ensure that a product not only meets the needs of its users but also exceeds expectations both now and into the future.

CTOs and CPOs are team players 

So how does the roleplay out daily, and how does it differ to the Chief Technology Officer (CTO)? It is easy to conflate the two roles – both work and deal with technology daily. It is true that the CTO and CPO work closely, and in fact, it is necessary that the two executives share a collaborative responsibility, but the separation of duties is clear. At PageUp, the CPO is the voice of the customer, ensuring that the most important problems are the ones that the product development team invests in solving, while the CTO looks at technical and architectural aspects within the product development. Together, they look at the best way to deliver value, factoring in product health and evolution.

Connecting the dots 

More importantly, the CPO acts a conduit of information between business functions, aligning product strategy with customer service and insights, development and execution teams. With a strong technical background, keen awareness of the market and an understanding of customer needs, the CPO communicates challenges faced by product development, shares the return on investment on product improvements with the executive team, and provides the product roadmap with the Sales and Marketing teams to achieve the best results for customers and the organisation. In a nutshell, a CPO exists to translate business and commercial strategy into a product strategy and ensures smooth execution with the product development teams.

Balancing long- and short-term needs 

It is the responsibility of the CPO to have a clear view of stakeholder needs, map out a strategy and fine tune it accordingly. Typically, a CPO will carry both a long-term and short-term view of the product based on the macro business landscape, industry trends and customer feedback. All information on hand gets reviewed and translated into applicable product solutions and offerings that can be created or enhanced to solve anticipated pain points through from now and into a two-year horizon. This ensures that the product solution meets and exceeds the needs of its users and is constantly fine-tuned based on feedback and observations in the market.

Leading an army

To shape and execute the product roadmap and strategy, the CPO works alongside product owners, developers, designers and technical advisors. The precise makeup of this team will vary depending on the product, but CPOs provide leadership to bring out the best of each. For example, at PageUp there are ten product owners and a full team of 70 focused on advancing and optimising products for the company's geographically diverse clients, all with different challenges and needs.

Innovation in an agile environment 

Driving innovation and introducing new product features and capabilities are also a critical part of the CPO's remit. Engaging cross-functional teams, diverse perspectives and multidisciplinary individuals improves outcomes, as does a culture that celebrates and rewards innovation and collaboration. At PageUp we host hackathons and bring people from across the business together to rethink our products' capabilities and identify where we can make improvements, from the incremental to the transformational.

Master of all trades 

A diverse background is an advantage to the CPO. A grounding in technology is always helpful where technology-based products are concerned, but beyond that, an understanding of sales and marketing; an understanding of the customers' needs/business domain and user experience are essential building blocks. A CPO has skills more diverse than most: a good instinct to drive product innovation, business savviness, technical ability, customer empathy and the ability to run multi-disciplinary teams. A CPO is a master of all trades, and still an expert in the field.