Do you find comfort in constant chaos? If not, it might be time to shake things up. This is episode 17 of the CPO Rising Series, featuring Optimizely CPO Justin Anovick. Justin sits down with Products That Count CPO Renée Niemi to talk about the value of constant chaos. It isn’t that Justin loves chaos, but he does think it reminds the team not to get too settled. He always wants to keep improving. Beyond that, Justin and Renée also talk about structuring the organization, and what makes a great Chief Product Officer.
Subscribe to the Product Talk podcast on Spotify and Apple Podcasts and never miss a single conversation with leading product executives. New episodes go live every week. Episodes in the CPO Rising Series drop on Fridays.
On the value of constant chaos
“I tell my team all the time that constant chaos is good. And everybody jokes, chaos is usually a negative term. But I think that it helps to promote change. We shouldn’t settle in for how it’s working today. That could be everything from product which you’re developing and making sure that you’re innovating. But it’s also, more importantly, in many cases, how are you designing the organization? How is it set up and through our acquisitions that we’ve done? We can’t just sit back and say, hey, the organization that we created a couple of years ago is sufficient. We need to constantly change and chaos is okay.
“And we have a trait here that we always talk about which is never stop improving. I wake up every day and think, What can we improve today? And everything is on the table. And I become quite aware and introspective that the moment that you become settled and content on something, that’s probably the time that that needs to change.
“When I talk to other CPOs, I think people are reluctant to change, reluctant on the constant chaos. And I feel like that’s what you have to do. And maybe somebody has the complete opposite thought, saying that you need to make sure that there’s some consistency, that everybody’s feeling comfortable. But I kind of work on the opposite end of the spectrum of saying it’s good to constantly improve. And the chaos is good at times.”
On structuring the organization by expanding and contracting product management
“When we were a smaller organization, there was a definitive product management group that did inbound and outbound product management. There was a design group that reported up to the Head of Product Management, who reported to me. There were evangelists that I have on my team to articulate the value of the product internally and externally. Technology partners, essentially, is who I’ve had historically.
“Now, as we’ve grown, we ended up growing into a dedicated strategy team that essentially front ended what product management was doing. There were product owners who were there to help work with engineering on a daily basis. Design was separated outside of the product management organization, as its significant function. Evangelism team grew, and so on and so forth.
“And now we’re back into, we have there aren’t product strategists. There’s application and platform strategists that look to bigger, broader things that impact the whole portfolio. And then product management is back to having responsibility of pure individual line of Product Strategy. So there’s been this evolution of separate groups that are responsible for very specific things. And then as we continue to evolve we grew out of that phase where we said, Hey, look, product management, of course, has to be responsible for delivering all the capabilities, as well as coming up with it, and being on the front end of the strategy. But we weren’t able to do that a year ago with the talent that we had. With the level of growth that we had. With some of the overarching pieces. So it’s kind of always figuring out those different elements.
Expand, then contract
“And then through the course of time, a couple of people now are in product operations, to help make sure that we’re delivering on all the different processes and different elements that we have. But it’s making sure that we identify the gaps that we have. Figure out if there’s a new structure that we need, or if you consume it as a part of an existing structure.
“And constantly looking at the people that we have. I know a lot of people say, don’t design roles around people. But if you have really good people who are strong in a certain area. I’m a big fan of Strength Finders. And if you see value for creating a role for that individual, then you do. At least that’s my perspective. And then you move forward, and you figure out and reevaluate in 12 months or 18 months. But it’s really been about expanding product management, creating multiple functions, and then kind of contracting it back in, once we were feeling more comfortable with the team that we had.”
On what makes a great CPO
“The single most important thing for me has always been taking blame and giving credit. I try to live by that. It helps provide that accountability we talked about. It helps provide the understanding that you’re safe in your job. Understanding that it’s okay to ask for forgiveness and not permission.
“Look, it’s important to have your team’s back. And if you don’t? If they’re always looking over their shoulder because they think they’re going to make a mistake, then nothing is ever going to be good. You’re always just going to be average.
“With that, the context switching as a CPO. Today we could be talking about one product, tomorrow we could be talking about a different product. Or today we could be talking about pricing. And tomorrow, we could be talking about our support model. Or our service description. Or SLA. The ability to context switch every 30 minutes is super important. Again, not just with the technology that we provide, but just everything that comes up.
“I would say that any C-level would probably say the same thing. That you’re not just focused in one particular area. And you have to be able to context switch. I think that would drive most people crazy, if they expect to focus on one particular thing. And it’s not always going to be just about product. It’s about how the business is operating and where we’re going. And how do we achieve growth? And sometimes that isn’t about the product that we’re building.”