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Product Officers

Treading Unfamiliar Paths in Product

In Conversation with Kjersti Thorneus, Chief Product Officer at Platform24 Healthcare AB

The inventive nature of the Product area becomes evident in my conversation with Kjersti Thorneus, Chief Product Officer at Platform24 Healthcare AB. With a background in economics, she believes that excelling as a Chief Product Officer doesn't hinge on “hidden genius.” Instead, it requires a potent blend of curiosity, humility, effective communication to navigate the complexities of the role, as well as a “readiness to tread unfamiliar paths.”

In this conversation, Kjersti shares her journey into Product, outlines her outlook on the evolving responsibilities of the role, and emphasizes crucial skills that not only Product leaders must bring, but the team as a whole.

Read on for the interview highlights: 

What led you to Product and the Chief Product Officer role?

I stumbled upon the Chief Product Officer role somewhat unexpectedly. My background is in economics, and I initially worked in consumer product sales and digitization. While at Schibsted, I became involved in strategizing the digitization of product portfolios and work processes. This led me to focus on the strategy side of digitization and transformation.

Upon moving to Sweden, I joined Svenska Dagbladet, where I played a key role in business development and digitizing newspaper houses. During this process, I found a passion for product development. I realized the importance of understanding the user perspective and ensuring that products met consumer needs. This experience ultimately guided me toward the Chief Product Officer role.

Have you noticed any differences in the various markets you have extensively worked in? 

I've always considered the consumer perspective, regardless of whether it's on the enterprise or consumer side. In my experience, consumers are fundamentally the same—they seek solutions to problems and are willing to invest in resolving significant pain points. My journey has involved various roles, from being a strategic sales manager to a technically oriented marketing director.

About seven years ago, I reached a turning point where I realized the intersection of business and technology was where the most intriguing opportunities lay. Recognizing the importance of understanding both sides, I decided to delve into the realm of technology and its transformation into business value. This shift not only provided an interesting career path but also positioned me to contribute meaningfully for the long term.

My foray into product management began when Schibsted aimed to consolidate its consumer products on a unified platform. This endeavor was driven by the need for a more efficient and standardized approach, as disparate systems across houses led to inefficiencies. The challenge intrigued me, and I found the prospect of aligning technology with business goals immensely exciting. It was during this time that I realized product management was where I could make a significant impact, and I haven't looked back since.

What are some important leadership traits to thrive in Product?

Being successful in the product management realm requires a flexible person. Curiosity, humility, and effective communication. The key is to be open-minded, prioritize tangible results over prestige, and collaborate seamlessly with diverse teams. The role demands flexibility and the ability to synthesize large volumes of information and perspectives into clear, understandable insights, plans or strategies. This involves developing self-confidence and presenting information in a way that resonates with others. Whether influencing developers, motivating teams, or justifying investments to management, the ability to understand and convey crucial information plays a pivotal role in the dynamic field of product management.

How has the role developed over time, and what specific challenges does it currently face?

With digitalization all businesses across all industries becomes at least partly a software company. This transition is notable in media companies like Schibsted, where products now encompass a seamless blend of software and editorial content. The challenge lies in bridging the gap between traditional business and the new software perspectives. This is evident in traditional hardware industries, the automotive industry serving as a good example, the car is becoming more and more a software product, and you can upgrade features to your car after the car came out of the factory. These sectors rooted in non-digital products are struggling to navigate the transition to becoming at least partly a software company as it poses the need for entirely new competences, processes, and governance.

As businesses embrace digitization, product management extends beyond the software realm, requiring a holistic understanding of both hardware and software elements to drive successful product development. This shift also emphasizes the importance of a CPO who can navigate the complexities of both commercial and technical aspects. The role becomes pivotal in designing a CPO role for companies not native to software, a challenge often encountered, particularly in Schibsted.

In essence, the future of product management involves understanding that software is becoming a more substantial part of products across various industries. Whether in media, automotive, or other sectors, the ability to manage both hardware and software perspectives will be crucial for successful product development and management structures.

How can CEOs of traditional companies strategically integrate software and what pitfalls or misconceptions should they be mindful of in this evolving landscape?

Certainly, a misconception I encounter often is the perception of agile as synonymous with anarchy. This misunderstanding can create fear and concern among individuals who view agile methodologies as a loss of control. What's crucial to recognize is that agile is not about chaos but rather about adapting to the dynamic and complex nature of the digitized world we operate in. The very essence of agile is to embrace volatility, complexity, and ambiguity, responding swiftly to the rapidly changing business cycles.

In essence, agile development provides a structured framework that allows for flexibility and iterative progress, enabling us to navigate the intricacies of a rapidly evolving landscape. It's about being proactive and adaptable, not a descent into an uncontrolled environment. This perspective shift is vital for leaders to fully harness the potential benefits of agile methodologies and foster a more optimistic and forward-thinking approach.

What leadership skills, qualities, and competencies do you foresee becoming crucial in the future?

Effective leadership demands a nuanced understanding of various domains and a broad perspective. Being a leader entails informal leadership, where inspiring and motivating individuals through genuine connections becomes paramount. This informal approach proves more effective than a purely formal stance, as it cultivates enthusiasm and cooperation.

In uncertain environments, leaders must instill courage and foster open discussions, encouraging individuals to contribute with their best arguments. This proactive and context-driven leadership style becomes increasingly crucial, particularly when heading into the unknown.

What do you prioritize when building a Product team?

Recruitment for my Product team centers around three key criteria, making the process particularly dynamic. First and foremost, domain competence is important, ensuring that team members possess the necessary knowledge, interest, and curiosity for domain the product operate in. The second aspect revolves around resilience and adaptability, envisioning team members as individuals capable of navigating diverse terrains—both literal and metaphorical—with ease and composure. This requires a stress-resistant mindset and a readiness to tread unfamiliar paths.

The third criterion involves a robust product management toolbox. Team members must be adept at employing agile processes, conducting workshops, developing strategies, and utilizing tools like user journey mapping. This comprehensive set of skills ensures that the team can effectively handle various aspects of product development. Additionally, I emphasize the importance of diversity within the team, striving for a balance between domain expertise and cross-functional collaboration. This approach allows for a blend of perspectives and knowledge, contributing to a well-rounded and innovative Product team.

Have you read anything recently that would be interesting for a Chief Product Officer?

My top book choices include Barbro Minto's "The Pyramid Principle," offering a structured approach to effective communication. "Escaping the Build Trap" by Melissa Perry provides practical insights into product management, essential for a Product Manager like me. Lastly, "Radical Candor" by Kim Scott pushed me to be more direct in my communication style.

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