The rise of digital technology and fierce competition has changed the way we look at products. Since customer needs and expectations are constantly evolving, you need a competent profile to oversee your organization’s product development team. This is where a Chief Product Officer (CPO) comes in.
But what exactly does a Chief Product Officer do? Whether you’re an aspiring CPO or a recruiter creating a job description, keep reading.
In this article we’ll walk you through:
- Who a Chief Product Officer is
- Their typical roles and responsibilities in an organization
- How to become a successful Chief Product Officer
- Average salary estimates in the United States
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
Who is a Chief Product Officer?
A Chief Product Officer – often called “VP of Product” (Vice President) or “Head of Product” – is responsible for product-related activities including strategy and execution. Their knowledge of product experience allows them to plan product vision, innovate product design, and ensure high-level product performance of the organization.
In simpler words, a Chief Product Officer’s job is to ensure smooth development of great products that deliver value to customers, and in turn, the organization.
Most small-sized companies do not hire CPOs since their Product Managers assume the roles of CPOs. In contrast, and large-sized tech companies prefer hiring a CPO. This is commonly seen in tech companies that deliver more than one product (SaaS companies are great examples).
Chief Product Officers (CPOs) are often confused with Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) and Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs). A CPO determines what, why, and when a product is needed through their knowledge of customers and their product experience.
On the other hand, a CTO oversees the product development team concerning how the product is going to be developed, whereas a CMO oversees how a product is going to be marketed. Nonetheless, all three titles work together to achieve one goal: To maximize product-derived value for all stakeholders.
All things considered, a Chief Product Officer, with their knowledge and experience, is a great asset to an organization. Any organization aiming to build its brand name should have one.
What Does a Chief Product Officer Do? [Typical Roles and Responsibilities]
Chief Product Officers constantly ensure that the activities of the product organization align with the overall goals and objectives of the organization. In order to fulfill this responsibility, they oversee a wide array of product-related activities.
Here are the typical duties and responsibilities of a Chief Product Officer as the heads of the product chain:
First and foremost, a CPO is responsible for managing cross-functional teams and reporting back progress to the Chief Executive Officer.
They communicate the vision, strategy, and goals of the product to product managers and teams of employees that are from different functional departments.
A CPO is supposed to know their customers best, their needs, expectations, and problems.
To that end, they apply the principles of research and analysis to gain valuable insights into their target market to continuously evolve their product development strategies and deliver improved customer experience.
Before they strategize a product, CPOs state concise answers to what the product will do to help their customers, how it will solve their problems, and what value will it add to their lives.
They ensure the product they plan to create aligns with the overall vision and goals of the organization.
This involves creating a detailed roadmap for the product lifecycle that includes specifying the product market and the needs it aims to fulfill, key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure the product's performance, and the organization’s expectations from the product.
Chief product officers oversee the entire product innovation process with a problem-solving approach.
With the help of diverse teams, they plan design strategies that satisfy customer/business needs, use advanced technology, and exceed products’ design expectations.
They coordinate with the Chief Technology Officer to plan, motivate, and supervise product development teams to take the necessary actions for bringing the concept and strategy of a product to life.
Additionally, the CPO coordinates with the Chief Marketing Officer to improve marketing efforts.
This includes product launch, evaluating product performance, and product expansion into new markets.
They take a front-line seat in interviews and hiring decisions of product employees and product teams to ensure that the best candidates are chosen to maximize value.
Furthermore, CPOs are responsible for the entire product portfolio of the organization. The product portfolio helps CPOs gain insight into the organization’s growth prospects (long-term and short-term value opportunities), evaluate product performance, and guide future product strategies.
What Skills/Abilities Does a Chief Product Officer Need?
To have a valuable say in the C-suite of an organization is a big deal and requires the right skill set.
This includes the following:
- Leadership Skills – the ability to influence, manage, and guide employees to steer the entire product department to achieve the organization’s goals and vision.
- Communication Skills – the art of persuasion, verbal/written fluency, and empathy to understand, guide, and motivate employees, and for effective communication across the organization and key stakeholders.
- Analytical Skills – advance research skills, knowledge, and insight of product analytics to assess product performance, customer experience, and revenue growth opportunities.
- Strategy Skills – at any given time, they know what new product to launch, what design efforts are needed, and how to navigate and manage the development process.
- Customer Engagement – they are experts of their buyer personas. They can identify customer needs, understand their problems, and make data-driven decisions to improve customer experience. All in all, they ensure customer activation, conversion, and retention through maximum satisfaction.
- Problem-Solving Skills – the ability to make complex decisions concerning product-related activities under stressful and unexpected situations.
- Budgeting Skills – the ability to set budgets that utilize minimum resources and deliver maximum product potential.
- Data-Driven Reporting Skills – they are adept at interpreting and maintaining timely qualitative and quantitative reports on product performance.
- Focus – a Chief Product Officer has a keen eye for detail. They ensure that the entire product development process is executed seamlessly without any mistakes.
Remember – the skillset above is what’s typically expected from a Chief Product Officer.
Different industries include additional skills and might have different vetting criteria for hiring the right candidate.
How to Become a Chief Product Officer [Qualifications and Experience]
The career path to becoming a CPO is a long journey. However, with the right qualifications, experience, and level of grit, you can climb the ladder to the top of the product chain.
In terms of education, for a Chief Product Officer’s job, the minimum requirement is a bachelor’s degree. In some cases, employers prefer master’s or doctoral degree holders in business administration, product management, organizational psychology, information technology, marketing, or other related fields.
Besides education, most recruiters expect prospective employees to have at least ten years of experience in product management, product analytics, or other related fields. On top of that, an ideal Chief Product Officer has the knowledge and experience in diverse fields including technology, marketing, user experience, communications, etc.
A typical career roadmap of a Chief Product Officer starts from entry level associate product managers, then product managers that facilitate product development process, promoting to senior product managers that take on a strategic and controlling position in the development process. Then, it’s on to the role of director of product, who leads product managers and ensures peak performance of product team members.
Finally, this leads to the role of the head of the department – the CPO.
However, it is important to note that this progression towards the CPO role takes years of dedication, learning, and perseverance. Therefore, your focus shouldn’t be the job title, but the journey of growth towards becoming one.
How Much Do Chief Product Officers Earn?
Since a Chief Product Officer’s job comes with great responsibilities, organizations ensure their employee is rewarded for their hard work.
The exact salary estimates vary according to different locations, level of expertise, and the type of organizations.
To give you a concrete idea, here are some Chief Product Officers salary estimates gathered from 3 reliable platforms:
- Glassdoor – according to Glassdoor, Chief Product Officers earn anywhere from $114,000 to $280,000 per year. The average pay is $196,044 per year.
- PayScale – as per the data collected on PayScale, on average, Chief Product Officers can earn up to $187,467 per year in the United States. Additionally, they can earn between $1,000 to $69,000 in bonuses and $2,000 to $143,000 in profit sharing.
- Indeed – according to Indeed, on average, a Chief Product Officer earns $215,647 per year. This report is based on 17 salary reports from the United States.
Additionally, there are other platforms such as Salary and ZipRecruiter that you can refer to for average salary reports.
Wrapping it Up
The growing needs, demands, and expectations of customers have propelled organizations to involve them in every decision of a product lifecycle. Therefore, an organization’s Chief Product Officer is required to consistently make efforts to improve product experience in an ever-evolving product world.
While the exact roles and responsibilities of a CPO vary according to the size and type of an organization, the Chief Product Officer is a strategic leader who oversees the entire product department of an organization.
Bearing that in mind, if you wish to become a Chief Product Officer, it is important to gaining relevant experience, expanding/diversifying your skillset, and following the journey of the top product leaders in your industry.