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  • JJ Rorie

The Relationship Between the CPO and CTO

Episode 087

In this episode, we explore the crucial relationship between the Chief Product Officer (CPO) and the Chief Technology Officer (CTO). We discuss the need for partnership, open communication, and trust between these roles. Our guest, Jodi McDermott, shares valuable insights on building a strong CPO-CTO foundation. We emphasize the importance of compromise, alignment, and transparency in leadership, as well as fostering a unified team culture.

Listen for insights on...

  • Building a Strong Foundation between CPO and CTO

  • Handling Tension between CPO and CTO

  • The Importance of Showing Work and Friction Points

  • The Power of Repeating and Sharing the Vision

  • Building a Unified Team: Breaking Down Silos

  • Effective Communication and Leadership in Scaling Organizations

  • Creating a Human and Mentoring Environment




Intro 00:03

Welcome to Product Voices, a podcast where we share valuable insights and useful resources. To help us all be great in product management. Visit the show's website to access the resources discussed on the show, find more information on our fabulous guests or to submit your product management question to be answered in our special q&a episodes. That's all at product And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform. Now, here's our host, JJ Rorie, CEO of great product management.


JJ  00:35

Hello, and welcome to product voices. I'm really excited about today's episode, because it's something we don't talk about enough in my opinion. And that is the relationship between the chief product officer and the Chief Technology Officer. This CPO role, Chief Product Officer role has become more and more common across various industries and companies, which is something that makes me very happy because I love seeing the product leader have a seat at the table. But this is a really important role in organizations and the relationships between and among the chief product officer and all of the other executives is so important. It's important for business continuity, it's important for strategy and of course it's important for the product. And that CTO role Chief Technology Officer role is probably the closest ally and partner that the CPO has and so that product and technology executive really have to have a great relationship. And so today's conversation is all about that and I couldn't be more excited to have my guest here. Jodi McDermott is a passionate software executive. She's got over 20 years of experience and transforming businesses building enterprise value in SAS software space. She has held various executive leadership roles she's driven companies through change and through exits in private equity portfolio companies that a lot of both buy and sell side deals and she's just got a really great experience for this conversation. She is also an active member of the American University Kogod Business School digital business executive council. She lives in Northern Virginia. She's a peloton enthusiast with which is really awesome and scares me a little bit. I've always wanted a peloton but I'm just I guess I need to be tucked into it. So maybe she can she can get me over that hump. She also loves exploring the mountains on skis or a mountain bike. So while I think I'll maybe stick with that peloton. Jodi, thank you so much for joining me.


Jodi  02:40

Thanks for having me, JJ, and do not be afraid of the peloton, it's a great way to work out what's on your mind. And while you're getting fit at the same time. So I'm a big fan.


JJ  02:51

Okay, I may try that actually, I'm a little less scared of the peloton than I am the mountain bike. So maybe I'll start there. Okay, so even a CBO and a couple of different places and, you know, you know, well and have have built, you know, good relationships with those CTO counterparts. So tell me about, you know, how that how that relationship, you know, kind of begins to form and, and how does that form and what maybe what are some of those hallmarks of building that strong foundation between the two of you.


Jodi  03:24

I think that working with the Chief Technology Officer and having a relationship, there is one of the most important relationships for a chief product officer. I've worked with some amazing technology leaders who have leaned into that relationship, and in others who have not embraced it as much. And some of the best work that I've seen done in creating enterprise value in creating great teams that can work together is about creating that relationship with the CTO and the CTO. It's a partnership. There's other partnerships across the executive leadership table, which you know, we can touch on later at some point. But focusing on this one today, it really is one of the most important relationships that the CPO has because you're making a lot of decisions together and you're guiding a broader team to work together those two teams work together on a day to day basis.


JJ  04:20

Yeah, absolutely. And I think I will have a question or conversation point in a in a little while about maybe the two of you working across the entire C suite team. But I really want to know and I think this is probably something common. But I guess I want to confirm my assumption here. I know I've had some along the way. I haven't haven't technically been a CPO title, but had a product and had some of this tension that happens right because you are two different functions, as it should be right and again, One of my one of the things that I love about the fact that the CPO role is is a is a it's a thing now and and is a, you know more common thing is that it's not just about the technology. It's about, you know everything else and the CPO being, you know a counterpart to the CTO is very important, but because they're two different functions, because you have a slightly different, you know, Outlook and role there, there's probably some tension. So do you ever have tension with your CTOs, you've worked with? Like, what does that look like? And how do you handle that?


Jodi  05:32

Oh, just kind of even touching back on your last question, though, when that relationship starts, it starts with the interview process, ya know, whether I've been an inbound CPO, or I've been the sit the sitting CPO, having a CTO come in that industry and I say chemistry in the sense of, you know, even the relationship the CEO has with the different people in their team, you have to have that chemistry to work together. Because that's where you know, when you get to the hard stuff, you know, the chemistry starts the foundation of building the actual relationship. And so when you get to that tension, and there absolutely will be tension, it starts with building vulnerability based trust, you know, in the best leaders I've worked with are the people that can open up, let their guard down a little bit, not be afraid to share some things about themselves. And likewise, be a listener to understand who you are, and how you think and how you process information, ask tough questions, but be opening open to, you know, discussing hard topics. So you know, when you get to those points of tension, they're usually around a couple of different areas. Anytime that you are making a balance or a trade off, on how much product capacity is going into a roadmap versus how much technology capacity is going in, that's a huge friction point across the entire organization. But if you isolate it even down to the, you know, the CPO CTO piece, you're having to advance the technology while you're also having to build value for clients and for prospects in the software itself. And so there's, there's a tension there that has to happen, of making sure that you can debate those things. debate what you know, what investments is it going to take to build a feature or a product? And what's the short path? What's the long path? What are the pros and cons of different approaches, and sometimes you don't agree, and it can take a little while to, to either get to agreement, or at least get to compromise and alignment. And so you know, those tension points, again, they can range across the roadmap, they can sometimes be about people, and you know how you know people in different roles and getting your teams to work together and how to how to evolve the people relationships that you're responsible for, and how to support each other on those people relationships, too. So we can touch on a lot of different areas. When you when you look at that tension. And if you don't have tension, you're probably not pushing each other hard enough. Yeah. So when I've seen tension, it's the tension is usually good. And you both know it's there and, and in healthy, good relationships that get built with time and investment. You can talk about really thorny topics and get to an outcome that can at least relieve the tension or is it you walk out of it with something you know, you can live with and stand behind?


JJ  08:40

Yeah, yeah. And as you said earlier, it's it really starts before the tension, right. The and the healthier the relationship, the stronger the relationship, going into any tension point. Probably going to make that a lot better. Right.


Jodi  08:56

That's true for all leadership. Right?


JJ  08:59

Yes, very true.


Jodi  08:59

Relationships for us.


JJ  09:00



Jodi  09:01

When you when you have when you have trust that somebody has your back, and they're they're acting with a positive intent. And you can you work hard enough to see their point of view and where they're coming from, to get to that positive intent. You can you can usually get to some sort of good outcome.


JJ  09:21

Yeah, definitely. And you mentioned you know, that that tension is often a good thing. And allows you know, for the right questions to be asked and the right outcome to come, come up to the top so should a CEO CEO, want alignment of all the time, healthy tension between the two organizations? What is what is that ideal? Look like in a CEOs mind and eyes?


Jodi  09:47

I think the CEO wants to see positive tension and debate across his or her entire leadership team table. But when it when it comes to the CTO and CTO yes Um, I think some of that is being able to openly debate in front of your leadership team, so people can see what those dialogues look like. And in being able to show, you know, how you do get to decisions and where you may not have alignment or where your tension points are, because everyone's got to run their own function, right, whether it's marketing or sales or strategy, whatever it might be, you've got your peers are running their functions, but there's a lot of, you know, people rely on product and technology, and they need to know that you're pushing the envelope to try to get to the best outcomes that you can produce while safely guiding the business forward. And so I think, especially from a CEO perspective, you want to know that that healthy tension and dialogue is there. And sometimes you have to show it just you can't, you know, always have it happen behind closed doors and come out aligned every time and, and not show that he Yeah, we are we are duking it out sometimes. And sometimes it takes a few days to get to alignment. So I think it's important to show your work, and sometimes even showing, you know, your debates and where your friction points are, are important as well, because it shows how you get to those solid decisions and commitments that you need to make, especially when it comes to coding on a roadmap.


JJ  11:25

Yeah, that seems to make a lot of sense in terms of, you know, showing your work and showing the rest of the executive team and even the teams below you, of course, you know, what, what work? Yeah.


Jodi  11:36

certainly, you know, it's funny. In my last several jobs, I've, you know, I've had, I've worked with some wonderful CTOs and has a product and have had, you know, some really wonderful working relationships. And our teams will often ask questions of, you know, well, did you to agree on that, like, how did you get to that point? And sometimes you do need to share? Yes, be happy you weren't inside those closed doors. While we were duking it out, you might have been a little bit uncomfortable. And I think teams appreciate that. They want to know that their leaders are having tough conversations, and that they're not just taking the easy way out. And that there's, they're, they're talking about, you know, what are the trade offs of how something is going to impact the business and giving them a chance to ask questions of how you got to a decision and what the dialogue looked like, I think is healthy, and it's a great way also to teach. And for, for PMS, and for technologists, software developers all the way up to your, you know, your your leaders in technology to understand, you know, why are decisions being made in the way that they're being made? What are the inputs? What are the outputs?


JJ  12:51

I think that's such a good point, I, you know, so often, you know, folks in, in an organization have, you know, a needed by a leader. And you know, of course, hopefully there's some empowerment along the way, but, but, you know, the, the direction is not always clear. And one of the best ways you can do that is to share the why behind that direction. And so I love that I love the fact of sharing also the debates, right? I mean, there wasn't magically this why and everyone agreed, and, you know, skipped skipped down the hall to tell everyone was some very healthy debates along the way. So I think that's a great point to, you know, you know, kind of open that up a little bit and share that share that truth about how this business works. And that's just leadership. And that's business. And so I think that's a really great point.


Jodi  13:41

It's true, and it extends to so many areas of leadership and of communication. And just, you know, when you talk about sharing the vision of where you're going with your team, you also got to remember that you got to keep repeating it. And, you know, I, I read a Patrick Lencioni book, in the last couple of years, called the advantage. And it just really talked about clarity, and that you have to repeat your message again and again, and remind people why are we here? And what are we doing? And where do we want to go? And you also have to do it on a regular basis, because new people come into the business and people leave the business. And that's a natural cycle. And so if you don't keep repeating some of those things, you think, Oh, well, I told everybody that wants, people forget, they need to hear it. Or they've never heard it before, or maybe they've never heard it patched in a certain way before. And I also find that you get more clarity as you continue to execute on a plan. And so you find new points of clarity to provide to your team.


JJ  14:45

Yeah, that's a great point that that consistency and repetition is so important. So I want to ask a little bit about, we mentioned it just briefly earlier. So the CEO and CTO are, of course Just two roles and people on that executive committee, that executive team. So how does the relationship the two of you kind of work across that obviously, everyone has their own function, you're you're not just a product leader, you're a business leader, and you have input into lots of things across the business. But, you know, Does that, does that need to be an aligned front coming in? And you know, on all things leadership, or, you know, how does that look and act in the real world when you're sitting around the the, you know, executive team table and working across marketing and operations and finance and all of the different groups? Is it CTO and CPO connected at the hip? Is it sometimes not so much? What does that look like?


Jodi  15:48

You know, it's a great question. And it can vary, and I'm thinking, I'm going to answer this from a couple different experiences, because I had one experience where a CTO and I, we had we, we decided very early on in our relationship that we were going to succeed together, and we were going, we never said fail, we will say, step back together, we're gonna succeed together, or we're gonna step back together. And when one of us or somebody on our team or collective teams had a when or how to setback, we would own it together. And we would support each other together. And we would show up that way, because we were in an organization that had a lot of conflict in it. And it was, we were watching it all around, we had joined a big organization that was going through a lot of change. And we both joined almost exactly at the same time. And so, you know, we didn't have any political baggage, and we were kind of watching what was going on around us. And we're like, alright, we need to really come together as United Front, to help move this entire product and technology team forward together, because this is what they really need right now. So that was, you know, a really positive experience for me. But it is important that when you are working across a larger executive table, you first and foremost represent your function. But you also have to contribute in different areas, because product and technology is but a supply chain into product marketing, sales enablement, go to market, and ultimately, the customer experience and client success, etc. It's all one big supply chain, right. So I do think that it's important as much as possible for a CPO and a CTO to come in, aligned, or at least to come in, in front of the rest of the leadership team to say, look, this is where we're aligned. But this is where we're struggling right now. And we have alignment. And we're going to tell you, all right now we don't have full alignment. And you might see us work some of that out in here in front of you with you. We might even need your help as we figure out how to prioritize a few things. And so I think, you know, transparency and honesty is the most important thing. So yes, you need to have alignment. And I would say that is the answer The majority of the time, but businesses can face some pretty hard challenges. They can be product challenges, they can be technology and tech stack problems, they can be people problems. And so, you know, you may not always have alignment immediately, but you at least need to know where each other stands on a topic. And so that goes back to that relationship of trusting and being comfortable, of being able to be vulnerable and transparent in front of your peers to say, Look, these are the issues we're dealing with. And we need to figure out, you know, whether it's a technology investment we need to make, or we need to move the right team members around to get on a particular product initiative. And it's gonna, you know, means we're going to divest or, you know, downsize and other areas to move resources, you've got to be able to have those conversations, because they impact the entire company.


JJ  19:08

Yeah, businesses are dynamic times are dynamic there, there are times when we're riding high and times when we are struggling, and, you know, you just a really good leader just kind of evolves with that and adapts to that, but also, you know, understands when they need to have that, you know, very much handholding alignment, like you said, and your CTO counterpart, and everything around you is falling apart or, or at least, you know, struggling and so you could kind of be that pillar of strength there. So, that's probably a good, you know, part of leadership is just realizing, you know, when and when you need to be more kind of straightforward aligned and when you can be a little bit more vulnerable, vulnerable and showing some of that disagreement. So, I appreciate you sharing that.


Jodi  19:53

Yeah, I think you know, product and technology are, you know, two very important pieces of the supply chain. And the product team also has a major responsibility of alignment all the way up to the go to market team. And so you, you have almost different concentric circles that need to come together on alignment around different processes within a business. But when you are, you know, manufacturing, if you will code writing software, which is what my experience has been on the software side, you have to have that alignment between product and technology, and what the what the mission is, what the vision is, where you're going, What problems have to get solved for and in, in creating an environment where people should not be afraid to bring forward problems. If there are problems, don't hide them, bring them to the surface, we got to solve them. And so I think creating that relationship starts at the very top and modeling it at the very top.


JJ  20:55

Yes, absolutely. So as you scale an organization, what does that relationship look like? Does it change? And if it does change, how does it change?


Jodi  21:05

I think that there's a lot of communication that needs to happen. With several technology leaders that I've worked with, we have chosen to really treat our teams as one collective team. And just to act that way, and not have it be two siloed teams that do the wrong thing, if you will. And we've included that from doing quarterly town halls together, celebrating in those town halls, whether it's people being promoted, or new roles being posted and talking about expansion and growth, clarifying the mission and vision of what we're trying to do from a product standpoint. And sometimes even a technology standpoint, there's you know, technology has a roadmap and a vision for where they're going as well. And it's important that the product team really understands that and can support it and embrace it. Because change is hard. And change. When you change something in technology or a way that the technology team is working you it will impact product. And likewise, if you change something a product, it's going to impact technology. And so I think as you scale up, you've got to work together to be aligned on if we're going to make a change in the way we work in one team, we have to be aligned that we can do that and the other team and then we then you do have to think about how you scale it. So whether it's processes that need to be supported by tools, or its communication. As your organization gets bigger communication, it becomes harder, you have to get more systematic about it, you need to remind people of the cadences and places to get their information. You know, it's not a startup anymore with 20 people where you're all in the same room, you know, working together on the same Slack channel working together all the time, you've got to make sure that information cascades down. And so, you know, some of the best CTOs that I've worked with, we've done joint, you know, town halls, we've done joint emails to our teams, to explain decisions or to, to, you know, to share information. And, you know, there's other ways of communicating information out, I've always done it a quarterly newsletter, with my teams after the whole organization that starts to share more what's happening in the product organization. And whenever you can bring information and in of what the technology team is doing as well and layer that in to that communication. Path. Super important, super important to do that. And being open and transparent. You know, I'm a big fan of monthly office hours, when people come in and ask any question about the business and allowing anybody to show up even if they're not in your team to create that open environment and, and also making sure that you know, you have your back of, of the leaders that you're working with, that you do your best to speak with one voice as much as possible and to support each other even through some hard decisions.


JJ  24:07

Certainly, that's That's great advice. And I think my last question to you maybe touches on that, if you were talking to you know, product managers out there, Senior Product Managers, even some directors or products, anyone who may, you know, have a few reports themselves a manager. So either ICS or management people, you know, how how would you advise them to best ingratiate themselves with the CEO and the CTO, you know, how can they best leverage those roles and those leaders and how do you want your team to interact with you as the CPO?


Jodi  24:44

You know, I think that leaders need to make themselves available number one, and be open and foster an environment where people can ask tough questions, and people aren't afraid to ask tough questions. but also teaching them to do so in a way that's respectful, that gets, you know, the right dialogue and conversations going. So that you can, you can help bring people along in the journey of a decision or, or a vision or sometimes explaining what you're not going to do and why something's not gonna get invested in. So, you know, I think that, again, creating an environment and when leaders make themselves human, to their employees, and their teams, it makes it a lot easier for people to open up, you're not just the scary leader, you know, out there, you're you're human, you're you're somebody who likes to, you know, get on their peloton, bike or their mountain bike or go, go ski, some in the ski, some snow or water ski or whatever it is you'd like to do, you know, so finding ways to meet people, you know where they are, and making yourself human, I think is step one, in creating that vulnerability based trust, where people feel comfortable being able to ask questions, because they feel like they know you that you're human. And so, and I think that's really important to continue on that humanizing path, especially as you scale. Because people need to be able to approach you and you need to be able to, to cast the vision of where you're going all the way down to those individual contributors, some may be well experienced, Senior Product Managers, or there may be entry level, you know, Pa ones coming in, you know, just just learning the role on the job. And the time that you invest in mentoring, being open to getting asked hard questions, and then encouraging them to do the same. And passed along, one of the best ways, I think, to get the message out is to encourage people to spread it. So you know, whether that is, you know, answering tough questions, and encouraging people to pass it along to their peers and talk about it and circle back and encourage people to come forward, if they have questions, I think is really important. mentorship, and leadership, you know, starts, that skill set starts on day one, when you when you start your first job, it probably starts before that, even in university or wherever you might be. But when you come into an organization, you're going to have people that are going to mentor you, or help help you learn new skills, teach you how to grow professionally and personally, and help you to open up to be a leader. And so, you know, anytime there's an opportunity for a mid career person to be able to, you know, look over their rearview shoulder, or the people that are coming up the ranks and, you know, pass it on, pay it forward. Right, it's a there's, there's levels of leadership all throughout an organization, even if you're not managing people, you can be helping to coach others to bring along the next generation, make them stronger than you are. That's always I always loved it for if people are going to leave an organization, I hope they leave at least stronger than when they arrived. And able to do more in their career than when they arrived, that that shows that you've done your job. Because people will move around and they'll go different places and, and everything you want them to take the best skills and, and strengths with them and just compound on that as they move to the next place.


JJ  28:21

I love it. I love it really, really great advice. And I want to work on your team. I want to be I want to, I want to learn from you. This is fun. I actually have loved learning from you. And following you over the years. It's been great being your friend. So, Jodi, this has been such a fun conversation. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom. And this is a topic that you know, doesn't get enough visibility in my opinion. And so I'm loving that we're talking about that. And even those folks out there listening who aren't yet in a CPO role but may aspire to it, it'll it's really a great learning for them to, you know, set themselves up. And, you know, those of you who aren't in the leadership role, per se now, you know, as Jodi said, just you know, make sure you're you're open and you ask those tough questions of your leadership. And not only will it help your current role, but it will help you as you move up as well. So Jodi McDermott, thank you so, so much for the conversation and for sharing your wisdom with us. I appreciate it.


Jodi  29:21

Thank you.


JJ  29:23

And thank you all for joining us on product voices. Hope to see you on the next episode.


Outro  29:28

Thank you for listening to product voices hosted by JJ Rorie. To find more information on our guests resources discussed during the episode or to submit a question for our q&a episodes, visit the show's website product And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform.


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