A CPO and a CFO Walk into a Bar…

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A Chief Product Officer (CPO) and a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) walk into a bar. Just kidding – I have no CFO and CPO bar joke. But at the same time, the image itself is amusing; it probably doesn’t induce belly laughter, but a smirk maybe? Or perhaps even a wince? Or maybe just plain bewilderment.

Why is that? It seems the two roles not only speak a different dialect but an entirely different language. The ocean between them feels vast and overwhelming. But does it have to be that way? Put simply – no.  

I recently had the benefit of participating in the inaugural Turn Product Speak into Financial C-Suite Speak Bootcamp. And, I’ll be honest, as a CPO, I definitely felt that I was going to be a fish out of water. CFO-land, as I like to refer to it, definitely feels daunting and full of spreadsheets. Whereas I prefer to think about features and future potential products and amazing user experiences. Therefore I was buoyed to walk out of the seminar definitely feeling better armed to have productive conversations and interactions around the business of products – which, in the end, of course, results in better products and happier customers.  

While it was a very meaty seminar full of useful information, there were two moments that particularly caught my attention. Shelley Perry implored all of us to read a book called Financial Intelligence. When asked why we should read that book in particular, her immediate response was, “Because in the first two chapters it makes you realize that finance is an art, not a science. And once you know that, everything makes a lot more sense.” Perry’s statement immediately struck a chord with me. I felt that, as a CPO, so much of what my team does is art, not science, and realizing that my compatriot over in finance is in the same boat made the ocean between us smaller.  

My personal favorite “Oh, you don’t get that product is art, not science” question is when someone asks what algorithm we use to rank a backlog. Anyone who thinks managing products is as simple as ranking a backlog clearly has not been in my boat! My other favorite question is “How much direct revenue will this specific functionality drive?” So easy to ask, so impossible to answer most of the time. As Perry expounds, product development is also art. But I digress…back to CFO-land.  

CFOs and CPOs really do need to find common ground at some level to be able to communicate effectively.  By learning what drives things like balance sheets and investment profiles, that common ground can be found. By the end of the seminar, I was convinced that CPOs all need CFO-land education. Find the time to make that happen – it is well worth it.

So I’ll leave you with the second moment that stuck with me. A moment that I felt summed up the value of CPOs learning how to “speak” CFO. At one point in the seminar Shelley said, “Here’s a tip – don’t ever ask for a new UX. CFOs don’t hear that. Instead, talk about the importance of increasing retention rates. Then you’ll get your UX funding.” Enough said.

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