CPO & CTO, or CPTO?

Rico Surridge
5 min readApr 17, 2023
A line drawing with a Chief Product Officer and Chief Technology officer on one side and a Chief Product & Technology Officer on the other.

One question I’m often asked by CEOs, is whether they should hire a Chief Product & Technology Officer (CPTO) instead of having the separate roles of Chief Product Officer and Chief Technology Officer (CTO).

There are a number of factors worth considering when making this decision and I will break down my thoughts from the perspective of both the business and the individual.

The Business

The business should first consider if its core offering is fundamentally technical in nature. If you’re a chipset manufacturer or an artificial intelligence software company, then the chances are that you need a dedicated CTO with a strong engineering background and technical vision — this is an easy decision to make. If your offering isn’t technical but, instead, you mostly leverage technology as an enabler for your business, then you may not need a dedicated CTO. It isn’t black and white though, for example, a small-to-mid-sized e-commerce company selling physical products can likely buy and configure all the software they need to run their business, be it internally or customer-facing. That said, if this organisation seeks to provide something that sets them apart from its competitors, a suite of digitally-centric unique selling points to help them increase market share or find product market fit, then there may well be a good case for a dedicated CTO.

Next, I suggest any business seeking to make this decision begins by thinking about its objectives for the next 3–5 years and what the biggest challenges are going to be in achieving them. If the business decides it wants the combined role of CPTO, then unless they have very deep pockets and lots of patience, there will still be a decision to be made as to whether it wants the role to be “big P, small t” or “small p, big T”, or in other words, do they need someone with more of a Product or a Technology bias. I suggest that if it’s out-and-out growth, then bias towards big P. If it’s platform stability and data-enabled features, then bias towards big T. I provide these as overly simplistic examples, a business really should spend time thinking about what it genuinely needs and seek as much input into the decision as possible.

Digital maturity is the next consideration: is the business operating in cross-functional product squads, do the engineers track DORA metrics by default and does the rest of the business outside of Product & Technology make data-informed decisions? If yes, a CPTO may well be the best way to go, if not, you may still need more strength at the top table to enact the scale of change the organisation needs to go through, both in terms of hard skills and culture.

The business, and importantly the CEO, also needs to consider what other roles they have on the executive team and within senior management. Is there an already large executive team (by large I tend to think more than 6 roles)? If so, then consolidating into one CPTO can make executive discussions easier to manage by simply reducing the number of voices in the room. If there is already an experienced software engineering leadership team in place, or perhaps even one or more of a Chief Technical Architect (CTA), Chief Information Officer (CIO), Chief Data Officer (CDO), or Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), then a CTO may not be necessary. What is the relative technical understanding of the other roles too? Do the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Group Legal Council have a good base understanding of technology? This is important to consider because if the general technical experience and understanding are low across the organisation then the internal work to upskill will be more time-consuming and add to the justification for more senior technology roles.

Diversity is worth thinking about in this context. Two roles provide more opportunities to increase the diversification of the executive leadership team and the diversity of leadership can come with many varied tangible benefits.

One key consideration will often be cost. A singular role will generally cost less than two. However, it’s worth noting that this isn’t really an area where you’re going to see big cost savings. If you hire a CPTO that’s big P and little t, they will need to hire a strong top team of technology leaders to bring expertise and credibility to the team. Thinking about what life stage the organisation is in plays a part here. If the business is gearing up for sale or IPO, a wider top table might help reduce near-term risks while also providing opportunities for future cost savings.

Beyond any of the above points, though, it will come down to finding the individual fit. In my opinion, role titles mean very little in practice.

Finding the right person to support the organisational change that you’re seeking is the most important thing of all.

The Individual

I’m yet to see two CPTO roles that look quite the same. Some include Product, Product Design and Product Engineering, others will include Data Analytics, Corporate IT and Information Security. There are a wide variety of complimentary functions that can be combined under this role and it will very much depend on the organisation and wider structure as to what is right for any given business.

Before I took on the role of CPTO I reached out to my network and spoke to a whole bunch of people in all sorts of roles — having multiple mentors can provide a valuable breadth of perspectives.

Generally, any candidate for CPTO will be coming from either a Product or a Technology-centric background. The opportunity to bring these two together in a single role presents a development opportunity and can be a great way to broaden understanding, skills, awareness and empathy. This shallowing and broadening of leadership responsibility can also be a great intermediary or taster step into General Manager or CEO roles.

That said, it should be noted that with this breadth comes ever more responsibility. Days can be long, and conversations varied. Context switching goes into overdrive and it is likely that the days of going deep on one particular initiative will be in the past. This can be easily overwhelming, particularly if your role encompasses both customer-facing and internal-facing technology.

I always advise people to consider the pros and cons of this role amalgamation, to talk to their network and if in doubt, give it a try. Chances are you will learn something. I know I have.

Check out more from my series of Leadership articles or my practical guides on building and operating effective Product Engineering Squads.

All thoughts are my own.

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Rico Surridge

Chief Product & Technology Officer - writing about Leadership, Product Development and Product Engineering Teams.