When you think of a chief product officer, you likely picture them standing in front of a whiteboard, surrounded by analysts and their customer service team, seeking to arrive at the next big idea for their organization.
While that image is likely accurate, more goes into creating a product than simply coming up with an idea. While ideas provide the starting point, the end result comes from proper planning and execution.
In short, chief product officers require a product road map to see their ideas come to fruition.
You can think of a product road map as your projection for the future. You initiate the process with a grand idea — your starting point — and end with a final product — the destination.
Along the way to your final destination, you’ll have a few stops essential to fully developing your product, including building and testing, launching it to your customers, and refining it to meet future needs.
Customer needs are constantly changing, and chief product officers are in charge of anticipating those future changes. It’s not an easy job; it requires skills in innovation and creativity and the charisma necessary to entice your team to get on board with your idea.
Often, the chief product officer isn’t the individual who initially comes up with an idea. Instead, the chief product officer will meet with product team members, marketing analysts, sales agents, and customer service employees to gain critical insight.
Each department works with customers differently and can provide vital information necessary to develop a product that resonates with clients.
Once the chief product officer green-lights a new good or service, they can’t leave it to chance. It’s not enough to simply come up with the idea and hand over the execution to everyone else. Instead, they’ll need to plan each step of the product’s development with the responsible team members.
Typically, companies develop a pilot or prototype once a product is in its beginning stages.
An organization can keep its prototype in-house, allowing engineers and analysts to review and refine it for mass production. Or it may choose to release the prototype to interested customers who can provide an objectivity the design team can’t.
After the team thoroughly examines the prototype and identifies necessary adaptations, stakeholders will plan the mass build of the product. Depending on the product type, the mass build may require working with various suppliers and vendors for specific parts.
The stakeholders will also need to decide whether the company can manufacture the product in-house or if outsourcing production makes better sense.
Before releasing the product to the general public, the marketing team must work directly with the product team to plan an advertising strategy. The product team can advise the marketing team about the features of the product that make it attractive to customers.
In turn, the marketing team will decide on the product’s target audience and the most cost-effective way to reach potential customers.
Marketing strategies can vary depending on who the customers are. B2C businesses may find digital marketing through social media and content effective at reaching their target audience, while B2B businesses may rely more on their sales team to attract customers.
The marketing team will need to define the sales goals for the new product. Goals and metrics benchmark exactly when the product becomes profitable.
If the company can’t meet its sales goals, the marketing team may need to refine its advertising strategy.
Sometimes, the product team will need to cut manufacturing costs to make the product less expensive or include new features to make it more competitive.
Following a product launch, it’s essential to pay attention to customer reviews of the new product. Customer reviews provide an early assessment of the product’s usefulness. If there are many complaints, the company may need to make adjustments to the product to satisfy customers.
Positive reviews are indicative of a successful outcome. The company may need to increase product production to meet greater demand, especially if the initial launch didn’t include enough of the good or service for widespread distribution.
As the product matures, changes will likely be necessary to keep it relevant to consumers. The iPhone is an excellent example of a product continually refined to stay ahead of the curve with competitors. Each year, the product teams at Apple identify ways to improve the iPhone and make the changes available in the next release.
Other products — especially successful ones that resonate with a large customer base — should follow the same course. Depending on the type of product, organizations can release similar products with new features regularly.
At some point, customers will voice the need for a completely new product. Chief product officers must pay close attention to their competitors and customer buying patterns to identify when a new product is necessary.
Chief product officers must stay aligned with the product road map and avoid taking significant detours. While it can be tempting to address every fault a new product has or customize the product to meet specific customer demands, doing so can result in lengthy delays.
Instead, it’s best to stick with the initial plan. Companies with large customers who purchase a significant share of the product can devote small teams to customization. That way, the organization doesn’t lose its long-run focus in favor of short-run dollars but still meets the needs of prominent customers.
Remember that a product road map isn’t set in stone. Once the organization meets its initial goals, the elements of the road map will likely change. Chief product officers must continually assess the plan to ensure that it remains feasible and make adaptations when necessary.
While the chief product officer is responsible for planning and executing the product road map, they can’t anticipate every roadblock to the product’s full launch. They’ll need to stay in careful communication with other key product stakeholders, including members of the C-suite, such as the CEO, CMO, and CFO.
The successful launch of a product can significantly increase an organization’s market share and revenue, so it’s essential to have the right idea and road map in place to see the fruits of the organization’s labor.
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