VP of Success

How a new VP should be judged.

On 2017-06-10 I have attended ProductCamp Boston - a one day yearly event in Boston for all things related to product management profession. While not my area, we all have to be T shaped in our skills.

In addition to many interesting presentations I had luck to join VP & Directors birds-of-a-feather discussion after lunch. Moderated by Bruce McCarthy (who is a great speaker by the way), our table discussed a question dear to my heart:

Imagine you are a new VP of something. How can you tell if you are succeeding or failing?

As a freshly minted VP of Engineering at Cypress, I really wanted to know. This blog post tries to summarize how our group has answered this question during the discussion.

1. Ask people who hired you

You were probably hired by C-level executives who have a set of targets for you to hit. Ask them to describe how they would judge you.

2. Pro-move: define your own set of metrics

If you were brought into such senior position, you probably have enough creative skills to know or have a pretty good idea what a successful "VP of ..." does differently. Make your own list and share it with the bosses. A few suggestions:

  • explore and define what problems the organization has
  • focus more on solving the process rather than the final problem
    • example: product has manufacturing defects. Concentrate on preventing the defects from creeping in rather than organizing a good exchange program.
    • more examples of processes that can to be improved: long decision time, low velocity, low product quality

3. Convert goals into actionable list

4. Define set of metrics

From the start think how the progress can be measured. The metrics should measure success of each item in the actionable list. Prefer collecting several metrics to get a fuller picture.

5: Address the external outcomes

When defining your own goals, do not forget that you are part of an organization, and its success is your success. See if you can meaningfully contribute to a goal outside of your direct responsibility. example: number of customers is not directly a problem for VP of Engineering, but should be on that VP's mind

6: Timeframe

You probably do not have too much time. Even if your final goals are 1 year from now, the measurable progress should appear at the end of the quarter. Sometimes, it depends on the organization's cadence, but for smaller companies the shorter deadlines are better.

Red flags

Finally, we came up with a few red flags. If you are want to be a successful VP at the new job, a red flag is

  • when your immediate boss has to ask what you are doing. You must be proactive communicator.
  • when employee engagement and output in your area appears to go down, while turn over is going up. Your subordinates are probably watching what you are doing pretty closely; their reaction might not be vocal, yet is a good indicator of your success.