Experimentation at Scale is Product Management

Rapha Cohen, Chief Product Officer at Waze, shares what it takes to be successful as a Chief Product Officer and his approach to experimentation at scale.

Rapha is the Chief Product Officer at Waze, a GPS and navigation software app company owned by Google with hundreds of millions of users. Google, which acquired Waze in June 2013, gives Waze autonomy, which allows the team to operate like a startup with a VC.

“Google really gives us the independence and the autonomy to pursue our goals, because they believe both in our mission and in our business value,” Rapha says. “We’ve learned a great deal from Google in terms of how to scale safely, privacy-centric design, OKR planning, and so on. So now, we operate much more like a mature company in that sense.”

As Chief Product Officer, Rapha owns the product, and, along with other Waze executives, the business. “You are ultimately accountable for the success of the business, not only the success of the product, and that’s a big shift in mindset,” Rapha says.

He believes product leaders must focus on the why, not the how, such as setting the right goals and vision, connecting user needs with business goals, and ensuring flawless execution. “Very often I see product managers sitting with UX designers, product marketing managers, product analysts or engineers and basically telling them what they want them to do. That, to me, is a recipe for a failed product,” Rapha says. “If we are focusing on the how, we’ll end up slowly and painfully building the wrong things.”

He also recommends experimenting, but the type of experimentation should depend on the product and what you’re trying to achieve. According to Rapha, experimentation works really well on hard questions with high impact and high uncertainty.

“Doing too much experimentation, I believe, is a really dangerous thing to do. It’s also a sign of not being able to make bold decisions. And when you start something, that’s what you have to do 90% of the time, you have no choice,” he says.

In this episode, you’ll learn a lot about product leadership, experimentation, and decision making.

Here are the highlights: 

  • Skills that aspiring Chief Product Officers need to learn to be successful in the role (4:45)
  • Rapha’s approach to prioritization and management (6:50)
  • How Waze is able to operate independently while owned by a large company (10:25)
  • How experimentation fits into Waze’s broader product management approach (15:21)

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