Your Experience working under a CPO that was never a PM?

Hello all,

I think I have everything covered in the title. Looking to hear what other PMs’ thoughts on that are. I have some reservations about it, but not based on anything I can cite as an apples-to-apples experience, so looking for validation (or invalidation!)

Basically, this person’s been in tech roles and has been CTO, but never anything remotely product-like in their LI history.

12 Likes

Two experiences:

  1. One was a technology guy with no product experience. He was the worst. 3 people reporting to him quit, including me. I quit without a job, stayed that way for 5 months but no regrets. He wasn’t able to say No. He would go to leadership meetings and promise features going live by end of month, not taking into consideration backlog, efforts, leaves, prioritisation. Worst person ever. He was changed back to tech role post the attrition.
  2. A Marketing lead who became a product lead with no experience. Lots of talk, zero support and a pain in the ass. Friday evening, would give a lot of data analysis to do for product discovery, expect it by Monday. And behave like it was just something that needed to be copy pasted, not something that required exhaustive queries to be written. She was given a different product soon enough so I got lucky.

I think the key problem in both the places was that they did not appreciate/understand the value add that a PM brought to the table. That’s not their background, that’s them not reading up or engaging with their reports.

I have had a CPO who might as well be a smokescreen but I prefer that to these folks. If you can’t add value, stay out of my way. I’ll do the job.

11 Likes

Wow, living through 1 right now. Such a bummer. Such. A. Bummer.

11 Likes

@Ahmad, My sympathies! If first principle driven, build a dashboard that displays your periodic planning, along with prioritisation logic. Work on closing processes. If not, then, hmm. I wish you do better than I did.

11 Likes

Thanks, I appreciate it! This is my first UX job so I’ve definitely learned a lot. Looking forward to making sure the team and management is in a good place before I accept my next position.

10 Likes

I have worked for people with backgrounds in Sales, Operations, and Engineering. Never crossed my mind that I might work for someone that knows what I do. 14 years into my Product journey, I will be CPO before I work with one.

9 Likes

I’m the lead for our product org but don’t have a product background (run product, engineering, design and data). I’ve managed TPMs and professional services in previous roles but never consumer product or design.

First, most companies ladder everyone up into a CEO. That is person definitely doesn’t have functional experience for all the people they manage. Thinking a CEO should be a good manager for other functions but other people couldn’t be feels arbitrary to me and gives me comfort when doing it (why not me?).

Second, I consider myself a good people manager and have managed functions where I couldn’t do the job well in the past (mobile devs, security engineers, ML engineers, …). You need to be wiling to get out of the way sometimes.

Third, you want an exceptional lead with domain experience. My head of product is amazing. I deeply rely on them. I can also help coach on company strategy, influence, people mgmt, and all the soft skills that will make them long term successful.

Lastly, I’m learning a lot. I’m never afraid to admit I don’t know and ask questions. I may not be good at it, but I try.

So I guess I’d recommend trying to discern if the right pieces are in place or not for it to be good.

7 Likes

I think it would come down to a few things:

  • is there something very valuable you can learn from this person? For example, I worked with someone who had phenomenal early stage product skills and I learnt a shit ton from them (he wasn’t my boss but he had a ton of influence on my product area)
  • are they a first principles thinker? For example, can you rationally talk through a conflict and they’d be willing to give up a stance if you made a convincing argument
  • do they respect you enough and know what they’re not good at? For example, they might be an amazing people manager or operations expert but not an expert on building things with engineers

All in all, I’d probably consider them more of a cofounder I’m reporting to rather than a CPO.

6 Likes

I used to report to the co-founder, also CTO, who thought he’s a product person, and took over the role of CPO when the previous one left (the entire duration of my time at the company).

My experience:

  1. Engineering things would get prioritised over everything else. Spent 4 quarters scaling and automating release process, completely unnecessarily in a small company in its growth stage. Prioritising product initiatives were always the last on his mind.
  2. Random initiatives would fall on PMs plates. One day we receive a company wide email - “We are building product X, our users need it” (on a whim, the reality was that X was good to have but users needed A, B and C much more). Anyway, then suddenly after the announcement - all hands on deck. And this is him demonstrating “product first thinking”.
  3. In his mind Product Managers are project managers whose goal is to make engineers’ lives easier and write tickets for them and organise everything and communicate weekly status updates. These are all legit things PMs do but associating the role only to execution made it impossible to grow.

Overall, I had a bad experience. I believe that in a healthy org Engineering and Product need capable leadership. Neither can CTO being a good CPO or the other way round in most cases (and I would extend this to COO, or head of marketing or sales etc).

Some may argue that the person needs to be a good people manager - this is 100% true, but they also need to be a strong voice for the product within the org and can mentor other PMs - not someone doing it because theoretically they can. Disclaimer: it added to my frustration because this person was a bad a manager in general, irrespective of function, and this has nothing to do with his lack of past experience.

5 Likes

As always it depends on the personality of the manager. Some of the worst managers I’ve had have been CTOs, and some of the best managers I’ve had have been CTOs. People are different.

4 Likes

Not as a CPO but my last VP was a dude who was in ops for a long time before becoming director of product at his FAANG for a hot minute before jumping to our company as VP. He had no idea how product development worked, always said dumb things like “it’s just one screen, it shouldn’t take that long,” and insisted we should be able to contract out all design and dev and suffer no issues. As we kept losing devs he just said PMs would have to do more, apparently not realizing we do different things.

Good luck.

3 Likes

Need more context. Doesn’t necessarily need to be a bad thing.

CPO might have a domain knowlege that is a key differentiator to the company, earning him a seat at the table, in spite of not having the right skillset to ensure that product teams deliver continuously optimal value to the business.

All the company needs is a semi-decent VP Product Management that would be responsible for the processes and hiring.

2 Likes

@Rohit, This seems to be the theme that’s largely emerging here, looking past the “horror events” that may not be indicative of issues at-large. Thanks for your feedback.

1 Like

Basically this is likely bad. Very bad. I had a boss who hadn’t spent much time as a PM if any at all. He got promoted to SVP Products. He was terrible and didn’t care. He made a million a year until I left, doing little to nothing for the org below him, but he managed up well enough to keep his job. After I left he became CPO.