The Age of Product is upon us! Product teams are continuing to become a competitive advantage within organizations. However, product leaders are still rarely invited into the C-Suite. It’s time for that to change.

Recently, product veteran and Products That Count founder SC Moatti was joined by product leaders for an in-depth conversation on what the age of product means for them and the path to CPO. The presentation discussed how they can join, shape, and ultimately drive the product conversation and earn their spot at the C-suite table.

On why it’s an important conversation for product leaders

It takes a really long time to learn how to be a great product person. Product managers tend to work on so many different types of products. There are so many different stages in the product lifecycle, different industries. Even if you want to learn, it’s going to take me a long time. There are a lot of different kinds of mentors, because of all the different situations that can emerge. 

For PM teams, hiring is super important, but so is employee retention. Do you offer ways for your PMs to stay motivated? To remain with you for a long time? As opposed to them being with you for two years and then losing them to a Facebook, Microsoft, or Netflix.

Finding a way to learn is an integral part of paving a path to CPO. However, so is building great product teams. Here are a few other reasons this is an important conversation for product leaders to have:

“
I feel I have mastered the skills at my level and have been wondering how does one push to the next level.
” – eBay Product Lead, Karishma Anand

“
I am enjoying developing other PMs and would like to take on an even larger remit ultimately and lead Managers of PMs. [I also] like the idea of shaping industries.” – Findmypast Head of Product (Tree), Kirsten Zverina

“
Finding good product leadership roles is becoming increasingly difficult over time and I would like to identify the best way to find the right role
.” – Wyze Product Lead, Mark Tan

On the challenges Product Leaders face on the Path to CPO

The dilemma we see that a lot of organizations have is where do I put product management? Well, some companies want the product management team to support their business goals. So, they put it in the business team. Then, the technology team is like says you’re ignoring some pretty critical things, such as platform efficiency. So they place the product management team under the technology team. Then the business complains and says they’re spending all these resources upgrading platforms. What about speed and execution velocity? Meanwhile, your product management team is pretty much a project management team. They just sort of fill orders. That’s the challenge product leaders are facing. Product actually belongs neither to the business nor to IT. It should be a standalone function in and of itself. It should belong to the C-Suite. 

The challenge is that there’s no very clear definition of what a successful product function does. While the questions that need to be answered are super simple, you face them every day, there’s actually no clear answer. In fact, Products That Count was built to answer these questions. It’s been five years and we’re still talking about what makes a great product. And then what makes a great product manager, and what makes a great product leader.

There’s no super simple, clear cut answer as there would be, for example, in a sales organization. It’s all about revenue. Or for a technology organization where it’s all about throughput. In product, we need to build great products. We need to build the right product. What’s right? It sounds really complicated.

These are only some of the challenges facing product leaders. Here is what others had to say about the challenges they face on their own path to CPO:

“
How do you navigate having a CTO at the Exec team [without having] Product representation?” – Bonobos Product Lead, Ibai Urruchua

“
Because product management occupies a space between the business and engineering, it can be a challenge to be a leader of influence in the business consistently.
” – Remrise Product Lead, Jeff Tam

“
It’s a path that is largely unclear as you’re growing in your role in Product. Also, in startups, it depends largely on how the founders perceive the value of product management.” – Brilliant Product Lead, Gaurav Hardikar

“
CPO definition seems to be changing.  It once meant running engineering and product functions. It is not meaning just all product functions.” – Activision Blizzard Media Global VP Product, Melissa Stein

What skills must you sharper to become a CPO?

For product leaders, there are three stages that many evolve through on their path to CPO. 

Version one is doing it all yourself or hiring A-players, then realizing you’re just not showing the value that you bring there. So number two, it becomes how do you build a great team. Things like mentorship, training, engaging your team, and offering product employee programs start to matter a lot in order to build to that third stage of now it’s a C-level function.

“First, start with understanding what’s really important to your company. Your company’s top line business objectives and metrics. Try to tie them to your product metrics. 

Second, continue marketing. [You need to be] evangelizing how important and how those product metrics actually drive the company’s success and continue to market that sort of an ongoing practice. 

And third, if the organization you’re in is very feature driven, it could be that there’s just a lack of trust between teams and so people are essentially giving you a solution because they don’t trust you to come up with a solution. So, find a way to start building trust over time to get to the point where people really focus on the metrics and the adapters and the vision rather than the future.” – Eventbrite Product Lead, Ryan D’Silva

“If you want to go up the ladder, you have to scale. Start with a feature, show excellence there. Then it becomes about how can you involve company strategy. So, that’s when you get a seat at the table of the C-Suite. At every point, it requires you to think more strategically and leave the details to your team. 

The ability to influence and build a team is a great determinant in terms of whether you can scale up to the next level or not. Being able to see the big picture and being able to influence your peers becomes a big determinant in terms of whether you can go up to that level next level.”  – Workday Product Lead, Prakash Aditham

“When a product leader is making a proposal there can be a leap of faith that’s required. And often that leap of faith can be measured by what your expected results are versus what your actual results are. However, you have to be clear about what your anticipated or expected results are upfront. And that needs to be informed by a greater level of analysis and supporting data. 

So, as you’re transitioning from being a product expert, where you’re very much in the weeds defining the product, transitioning to a product leader requires you as an auditor to gather up these other skills and to be able to make a richer case. 

Also, if you’re really creative in that you really like the idea of designing products. Or if the nature of your role changes and you become somewhat disconnected from that. Now that your team is doing that, it can be an uncomfortable place to be. So, it’s something that you just need to be psychologically and emotionally prepared for as that role changes as you move on.” – ErisX CPO 7 Strategy Officer, Matthew Trudeau

Check out Mastermind Circles produced by Products That Count to join, shape, and drive the product conversation.

About the Speaker
Mighty Capital Managing Partner

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