Hiring a Head of Product (Video)

The Business of Software conference team brought me back for their 2020 conference, run remotely rather than in Boston, where I test-drove a new talk on “Hiring a Head of Product.”  While this paralleled a longer post, we had some fun with different animals and the department executives they represent.


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Organizations that don’t have a Head of Product (aka VP Product Management, Chief Product Officer, Director of Products…) have some predictable but less-then-obvious symptoms: narrow focus on engineering/ development productivity rather than customer outcomes; underpowered, high-turnover product management teams; deal-specific demands pushing aside planned improvements; vague target audiences; customer benefits misaligned with actual features; and lack of an agreed (realistic!) product strategy.  For those of us who’ve stepped into the Head of Product role a dozen times or more, these are clear indications that senior product leadership is missing.

But it’s hard to hire a VP of Product Management or CPO:

  • We don’t know what product leaders do, and disagree about what’s most important for our new one
  • We write wildly aspirational job descriptions for candidates who will instantly solve all of the company’s problems
  • We confuse subject/market expertise with product management/leadership experience.  (“Must have someone who already understands the subtleties of our unique machine learning model.  The product stuff is easy after that.”)
  • Search firms bring us Engineering VPs, GMs, branding agency leads, agile coaches, sales execs… interesting folks who have never lead a product team or been a product manager
  • Each functional group wants to hire in its own image: Sales wants someone very sales-y, Engineering wants a developer who still codes, Marketing wants a pure-play messaging/positioning expert, Finance wants accurate 5-year forecasts.  No candidate survives our interview process.
group of pet in front of a white background

Rich has led B2B/enterprise product management teams at every stage of company evolution, and helped a score of clients hire strong product leaders.  This talk covered some frequent pitfalls, spotlighting how to find a product executive to sit at the big kids’ table with other C-level execs.

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Book Cover - The Art of Product Management

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