My CEO is doing my job


What to do when your CEO decides de take ownership of some of your responsibilities

Alice is a Director of Product Management at HRTech, a 200-person payroll management software company. Alice had joined the company four years earlier as a UI/UX Designer and got promoted to her current position eighteen months ago.

Around six months after Alice got promoted, Bob, the company’s co-founder and CEO, decided to regain ownership of project prioritisation and the roadmap. While Alice’s boss, the CTO, says she’s doing a fine job, Bob feels that Alice is not delivering product vision, and will take a step back once he feels comfortable that she is.

Based on that feedback, Alice is now wondering if she has the right skills for the Product Management Director’s job and if she should go back to UI/UX design. On the other hand, she didn’t get any support for her transition to product leadership and doesn’t know if this company is the best place for her to succeed.

What should Alice do?

From what Alice is saying, it seems the CEO used to be in charge of product and has trouble delegating roadmap and project prioritisation. Here is what I would recommend Alice to do:

1/ Sit down with the CEO to have him clearly explain what he’s expecting of her as a Product Leader so that she can take ownership of the roadmap and the product prioritisation. Bob’s valuable time should be spent on vision, strategy and representation, not on the nitty-gritty of which feature should be in the roadmap

2/ If Bob is so concerned about prioritisation and roadmap, it means that:

  • Features requested by customers are not released fast enough (in his mind --> “not adequately prioritised”)
  • There are not enough new/valuable features being built, and customers are complaining/leaving/not joining (in his mind --> “the roadmap is wrong”)

3/ Once Alice clearly understands what Bob is expecting, and has identified why he’s stressed out, she should come up with a 6 to 12 month plan to relaunch the product organisation and be more focused on value. She could do a roadshow to visit the main customers and have people in her team shadowing users to better understand their problems. She could work on identifying who their niche competitors are and why they are stealing customers from them (aka the Facebook method). She could work with R&D to identify new tech that could bring high value to your users.

4/ When Alice works on this new roadmap, she needs to make sure to have the right process in place for new feature requests from salespeople. Otherwise, priorities will constantly change because the sales team needs “this feature now to sign customer X”

5/ Once the CEO (and CTO) accept Alice’s plan, she should do weekly or bi-weekly briefing meetings to let the board know how she’s doing with the milestones and reassure them that she’s got everything under control