Goldilocks CEO – Getting Product Management “Just Right”

Goldilocks CEOSuccessful CEOs aim to foster an environment of innovation and creativity that will ensure that their vision is executed and that projects with the highest potential are prioritised.

Early stage companies, with the best chance of success, are typically led by strong founders with a clear vision of where they want to be – they are not afraid to take risks, they see the bigger picture and they have the ability to lead others to deliver their vision of the world.

To get initial investment the founder CEOs create a clear business plan articulating the market opportunity, the competitors in their space, the problem or need the company is going to address, the technology they will use to solve this problem and how they will make money. The founder CEO will generally start by hiring a few engineers to deliver their vision. They might have one or two sales and marketing people but predominantly the company is focused on executing a defined product strategy.

As the company grows the founder can sometimes move into a different role in favour of a “professional” CEO (often appointed by the board) or they may become more focused on general business development, with perhaps less time for defining the product vision.

In this hiatus, where there is potentially a lack of product strategic direction, one of Sales, Engineering or Marketing may step up to fill the void. However, allowing any of these groups to dictate the product strategy brings risk:

  • A company that adopts an engineering-led strategy runs the risk of focusing too much on the “next cool technology” with little understanding of the needs of the market.
  • A sales-led strategy may simply focus on the needs of each individual customer leading to “bespoke” and “one-off” solutions and driving the company down a services route.
  • A marketing led strategy may focus too much on external messaging with little understanding of technology innovations or the needs of the customer.

So how does the CEO “get it just right”?

CEOs like Larry Ellison of Oracle, Bill Gates of Microsoft and Steve Jobs of Apple managed to scale their companies and remain involved in core product strategy. As their companies grew they ensured they played a key part in defining the “vision” for the product, whilst ensuring that they built a strong team that were equipped to address their core strategic vision. These CEOs knew that, without innovation and the right product vision, the company would die.

The success of early stage technology companies is often a result of a founder CEO who has managed to get the balance “just right” with product strategy. To ensure the product strategy meets their vision they maintain an active involvement in:

  • Articulating the problem they are trying to solve
  • Understanding the competitive landscape
  • Defining the market opportunity

They also have a deep knowledge of the technology that will help them to successfully address the market need.

Continuing to get that balance right as the company grows is crucial for continued success.

Although Steve Jobs was actively involved in defining the vision for Apple’s products, he recognised the importance of adopting a supporting framework to deliver on his vision so that he could also focus on other aspects of business development. He is quoted as saying:

You need a very product-oriented culture… Lots of companies have great engineers and smart people. …..there needs to be some gravitational force that pulls it all together.”

As the company grows and the CEO has less opportunity for acting as the  “gravitational force”, adopting a product management discipline is an important next step –  it is never too early to ensure it is part of the DNA of the company.

Successful CEOs naturally adopt aspects of the product management discipline from the moment they write their first business plan but ensuring it is engrained in the organisation takes focus and alignment across the leadership team.

As the CEO becomes increasingly involved in other aspects of business development, it is so important that they have adopted and resourced a framework for product management that will ensure their vision continues to be executed.

Rather than usurping the CEO, Product Management supports them by understanding their vision and ensuring that a product strategy captures and articulates that vision. They help the CEO to understand the market opportunity, they maintain oversight of the creation and delivery of the product through engineering and they support the positioning of the product to market through targeted messaging and sales execution. Product Management listen to many stakeholders and help the organisation to make decisions based on the “right data” – they are the “gravitational force” that pulls everyone together to drive the organisation’s strategic objectives.

Whether the CEO is the ultimate product visionary or whether this is driven from within the organisation it is essential that there is an established discipline for managing product strategy.

Finding and nurturing the right product management team will enable the Goldilocks CEO to “get it just right” and to allow them to maintain the right level of engagement on product strategy.

To be really effective the relationship between product management and the CEO must be strong and bi-directional

  • The product manager must be able to understand and reflect the CEOs vision and objectives through a clear product strategy. They are a critical resource in supporting the CEO to deliver on their vision.
  • The CEO must understand the value that product management adds to the organisation, they must be actively involved in setting their objectives and reviewing their effectiveness. They must champion the product management discipline in the organisation.

For product management to become part of the DNA of an organisation it needs the support and “buy-in” of the CEO from the start. 


Articulating your Value Proposition – Not Just for Startups

The Challenge

As someone who has helped startups with their business plans I understand that to capture the interest of the investor Strategy2acommunity it is hugely important to articulate your value proposition. Clearly representing the problem or need you address for your target market, listening to your target customers and understanding how you will drive revenue growth is essential to ensure you get the kick-start of investment you need to scale your business.

Strategy is based on a differentiated customer value proposition. Satisfying customers is the source of sustainable value creation.” Robert Kaplan and David Norton (Strategy Maps)

Business plans typically only get shared with a targeted group – generally the CEO and potential investors. The continued articulation of the value proposition within the company, especially as the number of new employees grows, can be ad-hoc at best.

A company that has captured initial investment through a clearly defined business plan will move quickly to focus on the execution of this plan – hiring engineers, marketers and sales personnel. As time progresses and they learn more about their target market they may change their initial corporate strategy and re-evaluate their initial hypotheses of what the customer needs. Somewhere along the line their value proposition changes but often this is not captured or re-communicated clearly to everyone in the organization.

Once the company begins to execute the business plan different dynamics will occur across the organization. The background and focus of the engineering team will mean that they will generally position the product from a technical standpoint, often failing to understand or demonstrate the “business value” of what they are creating. Marketing will battle to understand the technical complexities of the product and will fail to create compelling positioning material. Sales will struggle without a clear view of the target market, the value the company brings or the product’s unique selling points. Without a defined value proposition the company will struggle to position the product and potential opportunities will be missed.

Articulating your value proposition and articulating across the organization allows you to:

  • Create an aligned and collaborative organization that shares a common understanding of how the business will create value
  • Ensure the organization remains focused on corporate strategic objectives
  • Maximize ROI for corporate resources and ensure all resources are delivering effectively
  • Support decision making for all employees
  • Enable Sales and Marketing to clearly position the products and solutions to the target market and thereby drive revenue growth
The Solution

Whether you are a startup or SME you should take the time to ensure that your Value Proposition is clearly articulated inside your business so that everyone can clearly represent it outside your business.

Product development, sales and marketing teams are often too busy delivering current project objectives to focus on the company’s value proposition and ensure that everyone is aligned around a common message.

Undertaking this exercise takes time and focus.

IntegratedThinking can help through a short-term engagement that will provide tools and methodologies to support your teams to:

  • Understand the market segment you are addressing
  • Review and define the value proposition for each of your target customer segments
  • Articulate this value proposition to the wider team with clarity
  • Validate this value proposition with your target market
  • Support the marketing team to articulate this value proposition through corporate messaging

“Working with Siobhan enabled us to really understand the market we are addressing and the problems and needs of our customers – we learned to recognize the huge benefits that can be achieved from an “outside in” approach to product management. As a result, we have strengthened our value proposition”
Bill Walsh, CEO Aspire

The Approach

We will provide an initial free consultation to ascertain your requirements. We will then provide a project proposal for review and approval that will articulate what needs to be done, how long it will take and how much it will cost.  In a busy environment, where the time of your key resources is precious, you need someone who has done this before and can drive the project to completion.

Please feel free to give me a call or contact me via email and I will be happy to discuss this further.

Contact: email for more details

Siobhan is the founder of IntegratedThinking and has over 20 years experience in the software industry. As Vice President of Product Management at Openet, Siobhan was responsible for the entire portfolio of Openet’s products. She was directly responsible for building a team to manage product strategic direction reflecting both external market needs and Openet’s corporate strategy. Siobhan has clearly demonstrated the ability and focus to drive and manage significant organizational change within a large, distributed software company and was key to the evolution of Product Management within Openet.
Siobhan chaired the Irish Software Association’s Product Management Working Group – established to promote the development of the product management discipline within the indigenous software industry in Ireland. She is also a founding member of the ISA Product Management Forum – a collaborative assembly of Product Management industry peers.
Siobhan’s proven technical expertise has allowed her to gain the respect of engineering teams across a number of companies and to bridge the gap between technical, commercial and marketing disciplines.

Since the establishment of her consultancy business in October 2013 Siobhan has been providing in-house mentoring to scaling companies.

Innovating to Stay Ahead


Research has indicated that potentially six in every seven new product ideas will fail. To innovate successfully companies need a strong ideation process in place. Without ideas you will have nothing new to sell – but too many ideas will lead to a lack of focus.

Ideas don’t always have to be ground-breaking. A winning idea could simply be a new twist on what you do already – it could be a better way of addressing an existing problem; a new approach which will encourage new business or a feature that ensures that your current users remain loyal.

There are many reasons that new product ideas will fail – the timing may not be right – you may not clearly understand or address the customer’s key need or problem or you may not have the right business partners. In a fiercely competitive market where the margins between success and failure are tight you need a strong process and culture of innovation management to ensure you have a strong portfolio of ideas, and that you focus on the ones with the best chance of success.

Innovation Management is key to the progression of ideas that will evolve your core strategic objectives. As a start-up entrepreneur or established company you cannot afford to chase every new idea – and “gut feel” is an often used but ultimately poor litmus test of an idea’s potential. So where do you place your bets? Which ideas are worth investing in? What criteria do you use to rank new ideas and pick the ones that will yield the best ROI.

There are tools and methodologies that your company can use to:

  • Foster a culture of innovation – encourage people to think outside the box.
  • Manage a portfolio of generated ideas – only invest in the ideas that are likely to deliver the best return.
  • Ensure you have the right balance in your portfolio to mitigate against exposing the company to only “high risk” projects and ensuring you don’t forget about the “bread and butter” projects that keep the lights on!
  • Validating your ideas with the market – ensuring you have a compelling problem to solve that customers will be willing to pay for?

Having a more structured approach to innovation management can only increase your chances of success –so seek to apply methodologies that will give you a fighting chance of being the 1 idea out of 7 that will succeed!