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The CPO and CTO roles

Why do companies need a CPO or a CTO?

Companies, even smaller ones are including more focused based roles that cater for both product and technology. Changes in the c-level will add further complexities, role segmentation and overlapping jobs/tasks. I will go over some differences between the Chief Product Officer (CPO) and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) roles that we’ve learned during our professional experience in this short article.

The Key Points

The Chief Product Officer (CPO) and the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) are two of the most important roles and two strategic additions to the c-level. Both roles are mission critical to the organisation and to the overall success of the company. Classically they are found in more established and mature companies. Recently it became more common for smaller organisations to introduce CPOs to handle increased complexity when managing/planning multiple products, diverse audience and new/existing product/market opportunities.

Wikipedia defines this title as “a chief innovation and product officer (CIPO), sometimes designated as chief product officer or chief production officer, is a corporate title referring to an executive responsible for various product-related activities in an organisation, especially a corporation”. This means that the CPO is the business-product to the organisation, like the CSO (Chief Sales Officer) is to the sales-related activity to the organisation.

The CPO focuses on the ‘why’ rather than the ‘how’, focuses on the overall product strategic approach to what will be built, must provide a strong vision and be an avid vision evangelist. Other soft skills are also required such as leadership and supervision however we will not go into so much detail about the latter.

‘Chief Product Officers and their respective Heads of product see their role as bridging the gap between the founder’s vision and the company’s products’

The CPO is responsible of the setting of the product vision, product strategy, product dev and design and product marketing, and will essentially oversee every stage of the product from its ideation to development, from product pricing to post-launch performance, basically the complete product lifecycle management (PLM). Ultimately, the CPO is directly responsible for building the right product for the market that results directly in the company’s value growth (including revenue, profit and brand). The CPO needs to ensure that each sub-department is led by a unified and cohesive vision.

On the other hand, the CTO is another executive-level position in a company whose occupation is focused on scientific and technological issues within the organisation. The CTO focuses on ‘how’ the product will be provisioned to achieve its strategic approach. In a nutshell, the CTO will determine the strategic approach on what technology best fits (platforms and/or technology solutions) the company and ultimately, the product(s)/service(s) that will yield maximum ROI.

The CPO constantly monitors market trends and studies well its new, existing and potential customer to determine which direction the product can take or must take to satisfy market and ensures a better future, whilst honouring the product vision and strategy and considering/revisiting new approaches to deliver value to the organisation, to the current product portfolio and target audience (new and existing customers).

The CTO is predominantly concerned with the technological solutions and continuously studies technology advancement to propose commendations to the whole enterprise architecture and how work should be best done.  The CTO also ensures that at no point in time, the organisation adopts new technology for the sake of being new. At this point the CTO needs to base its case on the ability to solve the real problems the customers are facing.

We can talk and discuss several other aspects but I believe the above key points are the main topics that will determine and set the tone to subsequent discussions. Consequently, the CPO and CTO need to be focused on better serving their customers, the CPO owns the why, what, and when while the CTO stays in charge of the how. At the end both need to share the same goal as most executives do — to build and deliver the best possible outcomes for their customer and for the company.

Check out the latest product management and tech jobs on our site.

Two interesting articles that go into more detail for each role – The Evolution of a CTO and Chief Product Officer: Background, Skills Required, and Whether You Need One


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