It is easy for founders, CXOs, and commercial leaders to blur the lines between a product leader and a technical leader. Most outcomes of both roles appear to be common, so it isn’t surprising.
Here are the key things to keep in mind when you think of your product leader vs. technical leader:
Difference in vision
The product leader is the CEO of your product. Based on her understanding of broader business needs, she will determine the true vision of the product. She will articulate to stakeholders her vision. She will break it down into consumable parts for the understanding of users and developers.
The technology leader will determine the technical roadmap and the architectural vision for the product. He will also define the development methodology, and challenge the product leader for changes where required.
Difference in ownership
The product leader owns the product. The technical leader owns the technology. The less the overlap between the two, the better for the business. The product leader works with business stakeholders to understand business needs and chalk out priorities (e.g., what part of the product should get built first?). The technical leader works out the technological ramifications of the requests and determines the best way forward (e.g., if business expects 1M users in the first month, what the tech infrastructure will be required to ensure zero downtime?).
The product leader is responsible for adoption and timely launch plans. However, the technical leader is responsible for on-time deployments. This is actually an opportunity to create some positive reinforcement within the two roles – allowing them to hold each other accountable to meeting the deadlines.
Difference in day-to-day management
The product leader manages through indirect influence – since she needs to work with multiple stakeholders across the company who will likely be at varying levels of seniority, she needs to have the ability to influence without direct authority. The technical leader, on the other hand, is responsible for direct management of his team members. He is responsible for ensuring appropriate professional development of his engineering team.
My personal preference is always to ensure the two roles are held by different individuals. Each holds the other in check and helps startups avoid losing essential time by focusing on the most important product tasks. But more on that in another post!