From software companies to brick-and-mortar stores, product businesses are constantly looking for ways to innovate, and lean on their product and engineering teams to catalyze development. But with isolated workflows creating friction between these teams, product development can quickly become static and removed from the customer’s needs.

The Heller Report sat down with Jason Henninger, Senior Principal in Heller Search's Product & Engineering Practice to learn more about why this friction exists and which roles can most effectively eliminate friction through horizontal operations.

Which roles most commonly lead product and engineering teams? 

Jason Henninger sqJason Henninger: The leadership organization varies depending on the size of the company. Typically, a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) will directly lead engineering teams but can also oversee product teams and establish an integrated reporting structure. Companies also may have both a Head of Engineering and a Head of Product Development leading their respective teams, and each team leader reports to a C-level executive.

What is causing the friction between these teams?

Problematic relationships work in isolation. If product and engineering teams work in silos, which is often the case, they will not collaborate and communicate effectively and thus stunt product development. Too often, companies do not have representatives from each team taking part in product strategy development, which separates certain teams from the end customers’ needs. Additionally, friction occurs when a specific business domain lacks Technology representation, like an Enterprise Architect, to bridge communication between engineering and product teams.

How can team leaders mitigate friction and accelerate innovation?

One way leaders can drive product innovation is to build and mature their DevOps and DevSecOps practices, or to have a CTO build an integrated or horizontal team structure to encourage collaboration and communication between teams, which in turn catalyzes product development. This is typically done by embedding an engineer and product leader with each business domain. For large organizations, this is where having a true enterprise architecture organization is critical in creating governance, developing standards, and aligning the business strategy with both engineering and product teams.

What are the benefits of having a CTO (or other technology leader) operating horizontally with the business?

The end goal for any product company is to bring the right products and services to the end customer, and make sure those products are delivered effectively and on time. Technology is usually the main driver behind building these new products and services, so getting a CTO involved at the strategy phase – instead of the execution phase – will eliminate drawn out project timelines, security risks, missed opportunities, and failed product releases.

What should companies look for, in terms of experience, when identifying a CTO candidate to build out a horizontal team structure?

A strong CTO candidate should come from a strong engineering background in software or hardware and have relevant experience utilizing this background in a product development setting. But a competitive candidate must have the right business acumen and soft skills to work with peers in finance, operations, supply chain, and research, as executive teams look to their CTO to align their business strategy. Gone are the days of the CTO working in the basement, separate from the executive team; a strong CTO must be able to sit at the table and discuss overall strategy.


Jason Henninger has been in the technology recruiting profession for over 15 years, providing consultative talent solutions to client organizations across multiple industries. The results Jason delivers for his clients are due to his ability to build long-term relationships, his deep knowledge of technology, and his vast network of candidates.

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