Key Differences Between a VP of Product and CPO

The Path to CPO, Building Your Product Career, Posts

By: Women In Product

An Incredible Line-up of CPOs Breaking Barriers in Our Podcast Series, Key Differences Between a VP of Product and CPO

Our Women In Product community members often mention that the path to promotion in Product Management still needs to be clarified, especially when working toward executive leadership. To help you explore high-level roles, we’ll discuss the critical differences between a Vice President (VP) of Product and a Chief Product Officer (CPO) with input from industry leaders featured on our Path to CPO podcast who have navigated this transition.

VP of Product: A Functional Leadership Role

A Vice President of Product (often called Head of Product) is a functional leader of PM. They are responsible for the day-to-day operations “around prioritization, like aligning teams around objectives that are downstream from the company’s strategy, pulling together the roadmap across all product managers, setting ambitious and measurable goals, and then hitting them.” – Alex Hardiman

Their role also requires a heavy involvement in talent management, from hiring and retaining top-tier product managers to providing opportunities for your PMs’ growth and development. 

On Episode 40 of the Path to CPO podcast, Nupur Srivastava reflects on her time as VP. She mentions that sometimes this role focuses so much on execution that overall strategic alignment can often take a backseat, “Hopefully, you are hiring strong teams that can drive a lot of the execution, but it’s incredibly important that you’re constantly checking on, is your strategy still competitive? […] Do you have a pulse on customers, both current and new?”

Transition to Chief Product Officer (CPO)

The shift to Chief Product Officer represents a giant leap into executive leadership and influence in your organization. “A CPO is responsible for the success of the business, that the strategy and the investments we’re making are going to get us where we want to go and help us achieve our mission as a company.” – Amory Wakefield.

With this broader scope of influence, a CPO forms partnerships with a diverse set of stakeholders, “the people that you’re working with across the company must be your chief revenue officer, the chief financial officer, maybe a COO, a chief marketing officer, [and] the CEO, obviously.” – Anneka Gupta. The ability to communicate how the company and product vision align will definitely require great storytelling skills. “It’s your job to tell the story of the how and the what and the why your product vision is what it is, and to bring the company along on that journey with you.” – Heather Gordon.

Let’s also not forget the importance of mindset when taking up this prominent role, “It’s not thinking about your product and how you can make your product more prominent. It’s thinking about what’s best for the company, sometimes to the detriment of your product. You sacrifice resources for your product or you deemphasize the positioning of your product because that’s the right thing for the company.” – Ketaki Rao.

As we conclude this exploration of VP of Product versus Chief Product Officer, it’s clear that each role comes with its own focus areas and responsibilities. We hope that with the insights of these industry leaders, you have a clearer path toward navigating your career in product management.

Want to hear more about the CPO experience? Head over to our Path to CPO podcast series, where we interview several women CPOs on their journey to executive leadership.