Unified Team

CPTO Roles Catalyze Growth

Kathy Keating Leadership, Operations

We are beginning to see an acknowledgement of the Chief Product & Technology Officer (CPTO) role in the tech industry. Let’s explore why this role is gaining prominence and what it means for our industry.

There are 3 main business flows of a technology company that have to be in tight alignment to each other in order to enable growth:

  • Customer: Sales, Support, Marketing
  • Technology: Product, Engineering
  • Company: Finance, People, Operations

When we look within each of these flows, we see that each of the sub-components are tightly coupled. 

  • Marketing feeds prospects to Sales, who transitions customers to Support as they onboard. 
  • Product defines the features. Engineering implements them. Product measures the outcomes.
  • Finance ensures there is sufficient cost controls to maintain sufficient revenue to pay expenses. Expenses include the people. We want people to be happy and inspired. Operations makes sure all these internal processes operate effectively. 

Within each of these main business flows, the individual areas cannot deliver within harmonious alignment to the other areas within their flow. 

The Perils of Misalignment

When the areas within a single business flow diverge, they can’t efficiently and effectively deliver value to the company. They must harmonize their work, share a common mission, and align their objectives.

Take the Technology flow, for instance. If Product and Engineering objectives drift apart, neither can maximize value for the company on their own.

When these two areas are bifurcated (by each reporting independently to the CEO). This misalignment often burdens the CEO with resolving disputes. However, the CEO often lacks the deep expertise into Product and Engineering. This can lead to biased and uninformed decisions.

Product and Engineering must symbiotically work together in order to deliver on the the technology mission of their company 

The Rise of the CPTO 

The Chief Product & Technology Officer (CPTO) role is gaining traction as CEOs recognize their limitations in mediating Product and Engineering disputes.

A CEO’s focus should be on orchestrating alignment across business flows, not micromanaging and resolving disputes across the teams within the flow.

How We Got Here

The rapid growth of the tech industry in the late 1990s/early 2000s evolved the role of Product to not just write requirements within the technology organization, but to also bridge engineering and customers, but also to work closely with design, marketing, sales, and other departments. Before this time, most Engineers were an integral part of the Product definition process, and these roles were often indistinct.

With this rise of technology, Product and Engineering roles have become much more distinct. This has resulted in leaders specialized in one area which led to them becoming unfamiliar with the other. A CTO might lack Product expertise and vice versa. We have now gone two decades with these specialized focuses where technology leaders no longer have developed the skills to venture outside their domain. 

As we try to now realign these areas, we are realizing that many our technology leaders lack the ability to merge these functions effectively without injecting bias and uncertainty.

The Importance of Unifying Business Flows

A flow owner must be impartial, basing decisions on facts, data, and best practices.

For instance, a highly technical CTO might dismiss customer strategic discussions as  unimportant so they don’t attend or participate. Or a customer-focused CPO might demand all development focuses on new features, this not prioritizing the upgrade of legacy, aging technology which is inhibiting engineering from delivering effectively.  

An effective CPTO must be able to balance both of these areas to ensure decision made are in the best interest of the company objectives overall, not biased to the background curated by their historical experiences. 

True technology leaders proficient in both Product and Engineering are rare gems (unicorns). But as the industry evolves, there’s a push for more holistic, experienced leadership:

  • Expertise at the Helm: CEOs are increasingly entrusting experts with overseeing their business flows. The CRO manages the Customer flow, the COO the Company flow, and now the CPTO is emerging for the Technology flow.

  • Cross-Training: With the rise of cross-functional teams, Product and Engineering leaders should collaborate more, even swapping roles temporarily to gain a broader perspective. By the time they get to mid-level leadership, technology leadership need to be widening their skills aperture. 

  • Unified Objectives: Company growth hinges on Product and Engineering working in harmony to deliver to company objective. They jointly own the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) together and must ensure it’s bias-free and efficient.

Contrary to some opinions, a CPTO doesn’t eliminate healthy tension between Product and Engineering. The role ensures that when disagreements arise, an expert arbitrates, rather than a potentially uninformed CEO.

The CPTO role is a progressive step for the tech industry. As someone who’s led both Product and Engineering most of my career, I might be biased, but I see the value it brings to unifying the Technology flow.

In my advisory roles, I often observe that most technology challenges stem from a misalignment between Product and Engineering. Unified, experienced leadership at the top can address these issues at their root.