What Does a Chief Product Officer Do? A Beginner’s Guide

Author headshot for CareerFoundry blog writer, Natascha Asberger.

The field of product management has been rapidly growing and with it the demand for qualified product personnel.

That’s why many tech organizations are hiring chief product officers (commonly referred to as CPOs) to oversee all product-related activities and maximize value for the users of the product and the business itself.

So what specific tasks does a CPO take on? What experience is needed to get to that position? And why is there even a need for CPOs?

Whether you are new to product management and just want to get an overview of one of the positions within the field or you actually aspire to become a CPO, this guide will help you gain clarity. 

If you’d like to skip ahead to a certain section, just use the clickable menu:

  1. What is a chief product officer?
  2. What does a chief product officer do?
  3. How to become a chief product officer
  4. Chief product officer FAQs
  5. Final thoughts

1. What is a chief product officer?

A chief product officer is a strategic product leader. They have a vision for the product, create a strategy to reach this vision, and oversee all activities to implement the strategy. 

Now that we know what their main role is, let’s find out what it is a CPO does in their day-to-day.

2. What does a chief product officer do?

As a strategic leader, it’s essential for a CPO to have a deep understanding of the market. To do that, they’ll have to ask questions like: Who is the user of the product? What main pain points do these users have? How is the product performing within the market? And what are competitors doing?

It’s also important for the chief product officer to understand the business side of things. This involves tasks such as determining what the goal of the organization is with regards to the product, what the budget for the product development process is, and assessing what the expectations of clients or investors are.

However, the CPO doesn’t work on these things alone, but together with their product team, which usually consists of the Head of Product, Product Managers, Designers, Analysts and Marketing Managers. The CPO manages the product team and acts as a mentor for them.

Chief product officer tasks 

Depending on the size and type of organization they work in, the tasks a CPO is expected to carry out can vary. However, more often that not they are responsible for the following:

Chief product officer skills

So, what does it take to make a CPO? Again, each one can differ and bring different strengths to the table as needed. That said, a chief product officer should be competent in:

  • Leadership
  • Decision-making
  • Communication
  • Strategic thinking
  • Critical thinking
  • Analytical thinking
  • Data-driven
  • Problem solving 
  • Structured/organized
  • Conflict management

3. How to become a chief product officer

The most typical career path for a CPO starts as a junior product manager. They then pass through all higher product management positions, such as mid-level and senior product manager. 

A product manager needs at least four to five years of experience to be promoted to a senior position and they need to have shown that they can add value to the product and the company through their work. A senior product manager might also mentor more junior members of the team. 

The next step on the career ladder is to become a head of product, who takes up a more strategic leadership role, as they lead the product team. A head of product will need to collect a couple of years experience leading a product team before finally becoming a chief product officer. 

Having said that, there is no one right path to becoming a CPO. They may well have a background in Business Analytics or Marketing, for example. They do need to show, though, that they have an in-depth knowledge of product management and that they have worked in a leading product position for an extended amount of time.

4. Chief product officer FAQs

So, now that you’ve learned what a CPO does and how to get there, let’s briefly answer some other popular questions about the position:

What’s the average chief product officer salary?

According to the job site Indeed, the average chief product officer salary in the U.S. is $209,000 yearly. 

Having said that, the demand for the role of the CPO is continuously rising and looking at the trend of the last few years, the average salary for the position is expected to rise with it. 

How long does it take to become a CPO?

A chief product officer needs to have extensive experience within product management. Most current job ads are asking for 10 years of experience, of which at least three to five years should have been in a leading role, such as Head of Product.

What’s the difference between a CTO and CPO?

The CTO and the CPO are responsible for different parts of the product. The chief product officer is responsible for the what and why of the product—what exactly is being built and why do we need it. The Chief Technology Officer, on the other hand, is responsible for the how of the product development—e.g. what technology is being used for the implementation.

What’s the difference between a CPO and a head of product?

The Head of Product and the chief product officer are both leading product management positions. 

The CPO will take up a more strategic role, thinking about the vision of the product—the big picture—whereas the Head of Product is responsible for the operative part—taking care of the rest of the product team, making sure they are implementing the right things and have the means to implement them. 

The Head of Product typically reports to the chief product officer, and is thus a step below on the career ladder. 

5. Final thoughts

By now you know that the chief product officer is an important role for any medium to large sized organization that puts a focus on building excellent products. 

The way to becoming a CPO is long and takes dedication. However, each CPO has once started small.

So, if you are interested in starting your own career in product management, check out CareerFoundry’s Intro to Product Management course. There you’ll get more in-depth knowledge on product management.

And you might also be interested in the following articles:

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