Chief Product Officer Job Description: Defining the CPO Role

chief product officer job description

It’s challenging for startups and scale-ups to create the perfect chief product officer job description, especially when you’re hiring your first CPO.  

You may be unsure what hiring a CPO fully entails for your company. Or you may start out with one idea of what the CPO should do, only to find your description evolves during the recruitment process, changing with each new candidate you meet. 

This kind of uncertainty can set you up for costly mistakes. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

As experts in executive search for tech and product companies, we can help you define your CPO role.

We’ll help you understand:

  • The role of a chief product officer (CPO)
  • The responsibilities of a CPO
  • The difference between a CPO and other product leaders
  • How to define the CPO role for your company

A role like CPO shouldn’t depend on luck because fast-growing tech and product companies can’t risk getting their executive hires wrong. Our executive search experts know how to get your C-suite right. Contact us to find your next CPO.

What is a Chief Product Officer (CPO)?

The CPO is a strategic role responsible for your entire product, including your product department and all the product verticals.

They work directly with senior management to bring the company-wide vision to fruition through the product. They align your business goals with consumer needs and market demands. 

In order to construct the vision, the CPO must have a clear overall understanding of customer pain points: what challenges they face and what problems they need to solve. 

Additionally, a CPO should be capable of analysing data to ensure that the company’s objectives are achieved. Spotting trends in data is important as it can help steer the ship back to the right course.

With their high-level overview of your company’s product, the CPOs are on par with other C-suite positions, such as COO, CTO, and CMO. 

What are the responsibilities of a Chief Product Officer?

Since the CPO aligns the company’s business with current market trends, their unique, holistic view ensures the product meets the company’s key business goal while delivering the best product experience to customers.  

The CPO is a strategic visionary who will:

  • Develop a vision. They think of the product in mid to long terms and create, share, update, and align their vision of the product with the CEO and senior management team. They’ll have a product vision statement that acts as a guide for all the teams involved in product development.
  • Create a strategy. CPOs oversee product delivery by creating processes, roadmaps, and strategies to turn the company vision into reality.
  • Lead their team. In most product organisations, a CPO will lead their vice presidents (VPs) of product – each responsible for certain product verticals – to make their vision come true. They’ll also ensure their VPs can translate the vision to their product teams, who will have a more hands-on approach to implementing strategies and developing the product.
  • Inspire marketing plans and promotions. Though the product vision statement also serves as a guide for the marketing team, the CPO will dive deep into market, customer, and product data to establish consumer metrics and KPIs, which are essential to gauge feedback and product performance for continuous improvement.
  • Build bridges. CPOs bring out the best in others, from hiring the right people and forming future leaders to creating powerful relationships with all stakeholders to deliver the best product.

What is the difference between a Chief Product Officer and other product leaders?

Before you start looking for your chief product officer, it’s important to know the difference between a CPO and other product leaders to ensure you hire the right person for your company. 

We’ve seen firsthand how companies change their role descriptions as they’re recruiting a CPO because their definition of the role evolves. With every candidate you meet, you’ll gain new insights you hadn’t thought of before. You may even realise you need a different job title, like a VP of Product instead of a CPO. 

For example, if you want someone in charge of all your product verticals, you’ll need a CPO. But if you need someone who’s in charge of only one vertical, you need a VP of product.

To provide you with greater clarity, let’s look at the possible hierarchies and the roles and responsibilities of different product leaders. 

Product department hierarchy

Your product department’s organisational structure doesn’t have to conform to a standard. Your structure will look different based on your company’s size and current structure, your funding levels, and the number of product lines.

One example could look like this (from highest to lowest seniority):

  • CPO
  • VP of product
  • Director of product
  • Group product manager
  • Senior product manager
  • Product manager

Product organisation structure

To better understand which position you actually need to fill and what kind of structure would work best for you, here’s a brief description of each role and how they interact. 

CPO

The CPO is in charge of the company’s entire product strategy from start to finish. They’ll be more operational in the short term, but dedicate greater time and effort to mid and long-term planning, vision, goal setting, and road mapping. 

The CPO works directly with two other C-level roles:

  • Chief technical officer (CTO). Both CPO and CTO work together to reach the final product goal, but from different angles. The CTO is responsible for how to build the product with the available technologies, whereas the CPO decides what product to build and why, based on market and consumer analysis and trends.
  • Chief marketing officer (CMO). Your CMO and CPO will also work closely together to communicate the product vision outside the company to reach their target audience and land sales. Many of the experiences, skills, and responsibilities of a CPO overlap with those of the CMO. So you may only need a CPO who can cover both roles and evolve into the company’s sole product evangelist.

VP of product

To fulfil the product vision while staying aligned with the company’s major business goals, your CPO works closely with their VPs of product, who are each responsible for one product vertical and have greater operational responsibilities than the CPO.

Also known as Head of Product, the VP’s responsibilities are equally operational and strategic, like creating product line roadmaps, overseeing their teams, and having their own strategy in place for their specific vertical. 

Product director

Product directors help your company scale a product. They are more operational than strategic and are often the first-line team leads of senior product managers.

For example, product directors create, review and update product-line roadmaps and guarantee team efficiency.

Group product manager

The group product manager (GPM) is usually responsible for a given product area or a group of features of one product line. They manage individuals, such as senior product managers or product managers. Depending on your hierarchy, they may report to your VP of product or product director. 

 

Why does the job title matter, anyway?

Job titles matter because they can affect the types of candidates you attract and influence candidates’ expectations of a role. But this doesn’t mean candidates will want more money or prestige. 

Sometimes it’s as simple as wanting to do the best job possible…

For example, we approached a candidate with the right experience, culture fit, and qualifications for a product director role at a growing company. However, the candidate turned us down based on the job title. 

He felt the role didn’t offer a sufficient level of influence within the company and foresaw difficulty in implementing changes (such as pushback from the VP or CPO). He wouldn’t have accepted anything less than VP of product, regardless of the salary.

Once you’ve decided on the job title, it’s time to create your CPO job description.  

Chief Product Officer job description: How to define the CPO role for your company

There are many facets that go into creating a CPO job description. And while you’ll already know the skills required by the role, we invite you to take a deeper dive into exploring your CPO candidates’ experience and your own biases

Here are our top tips to help you define your chief product officer job description. 

1. Think long term 

When drafting your CPO job description, don’t just focus on the immediate company need but think about your mid to long-term goals. You want to make sure your candidate’s profile aligns with your company’s growth trajectory before you hire them

This means you’re going to think more about the candidate’s experience and not just limit yourself to their skills and culture fit as you’re crafting the description. 

For example, you may think candidates from competing companies with the same size, a similar growth rate, and working in a compatible industry would be a good match. Instead, consider candidates at bigger companies with a lesser title who could do the same job because they have experience with long-term strategic thinking and seeing the big picture. 

Or, if you’re scaling your company to go public, look at candidates with lesser titles but who have already been through an IPO. 

2. Avoid filling someone else’s shoes 

A common mistake is to look for a clone of the person who used to be in charge of your product. Instead, avoid looking for a carbon copy to keep innovation and business growth alive. 

The best approach is to put distance between your expectations of finding a duplicate and what you really need from a CPO. This ensures you’ll give more flexibility to the person who will step into the CPO shoes. 

For example, don’t expect your CPO to be both hands-on and visionary, just like your founder was during the company’s budding startup phase. They may overdeliver on short-term operations but lose sight of your business’ growth strategy. 

3. Align your visions

Make sure your candidate’s vision aligns with your company’s overall vision and goals to avoid hiring someone who may change your strategy completely. 

Unhappy in his current role, a senior product manager reached out to us looking for new opportunities. He told us his company’s newly hired CPO had filled the product team with former colleagues and shifted the entire product department’s strategy to focus solely on acquisition. In a few months, the company had lost 80% of its customers because product development no longer focused on customer retention or churn.

To avoid this pitfall, have your mid and long-term vision clear when you’re creating your job description. Then, use the interview process to see if your visions match. 

As you can see from how we helped Jobandtalent hire a CISO in less than 60 days, we have candidates prepare a business case as one of the last steps of the interview process, which they deliver to the senior management team. This is a surefire way to see if your candidate’s vision aligns with your own.

4. Stay grounded

Is someone who was a CPO at Facebook really what you need? 

Be realistic because aiming too high can backfire.

Even if you could get the former CPO of Amazon or Apple, they’re probably not going to add the value you need right now because the scope of these giant companies is vastly different from yours. These CPOs may also be used to more rigid levels of seniority, which won’t make a great cultural fit for a growing product company. 

Also, one of the major differences is these CPO superstars don’t have anything to prove to you. They’ve already achieved greatness and made a name for themselves. Find a rising star who has the hunger for greatness instead and you’ll see your company scale rapidly.

5. Be flexible

90% of job descriptions change throughout the recruitment process. And that’s okay. Think of it as a learning curve because the position can evolve. 

When we work with you, we first meet to understand the position and qualify the role. We then sum up our understanding in a document for you to review and provide feedback on. 

We’ll then run a sample list of candidates, but purely as an example. We do this so you can see the potential candidates you’ll receive when matched with your job description and profile. Even though they’ll fit your description, they may not be the same candidates you had in mind. 

This is where we’ll rewrite the job description with you – flexibility is key here

So don’t be afraid to change the job description or even the job title during the recruitment process. Just make sure you communicate any changes with candidates as soon as possible so you can manage their expectations and keep your reputation intact. 

Find your next CPO the right way with Nederlia

You can use our guide to recruit your next CPO on your own. 

However, having an expert executive search service like Nederlia can decrease the time needed to find your next CPO and increase the quality of candidates you find. 

With 12+ years of placing tech and product candidates from 43 countries in leading equity and VC-backed startups and scale-ups, we know how to find your next C-level hires quickly. We have access to a vast, global network of top candidates to fill your executive tech and product positions.

You’ll always have us by your side during your executive search. We work with you every step of the way, from creating the initial chief product officer job description to negotiating salaries and extending job offers. We’ll even take care of relocation and post-placement care. 

You don’t have to go it alone. Let us help you get your next C-level hire right.

Need to hire your next CPO?

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