“With great power comes great responsibility”, French philosopher Voltaire had said, as did Uncle Ben of Peter Parker in the movie Spiderman. As a chief technology officer (CTO), you surely aspire to this credo.
With all-pervasive software transforming business models, products, services and processes across industries, the role and stature of CTOs like you is only going to grow. And, that brings with it its own set of challenges and imperatives. You will not only have to continuously pick up new skills–both functional and business–but also build and retain a team of top-quality technology professionals who can deliver great products.
Needless to say you must, first and foremost, demonstrate an in-depth understanding of the domain, in terms of how different architectures, technology stacks, tools and products come together. This technical expertise should be based on your hands-on experience in performing various roles throughout the product development cycle.
Apart from honing software engineering skills, you need to have the five following qualities in order to stand out among the crowd, and become a truly great CTO:
1. Look at the big picture
Technology for the sake of technology has never worked, and never will. It must reflect the evolving business objectives of the company. Even as your team develops new applications with great passion, never lose sight of the big picture, in terms of how these can help the company grow revenues and profits.
For that to happen, you should contextualize each software solution against the given business backdrop. So, if a new procurement management application is being developed, you should figure out how it will help the company improve coordination with suppliers, foster better transparency, etc.
Similarly, you must reach out to your colleagues in sales, finance and other key functions to understand their priorities and requirements, and explore how your team can help them. Gaining these insights will immensely help you build mutual trust with senior stakeholders throughout the organization, and simplify and explain complex technical concepts to them.
2. Never lose sight of the product vision and goals
Before starting work on a new product, you must first explain to your team the business value it will create for the enterprise. For instance, if a new mobile app is being envisaged for higher marketing ROI, you should think through various use cases for how end users will engage with the app. This requires an appreciation of how the core underlying processes work, and how software can make them better.
Once the business case has been laid out, you then have to articulate the product vision, spanning the prototype, MVP, first production version and other phases. As CTO, you should convey to developers and designers who the target audience is, what problems they are facing, and how the product will address the same. The next step is to define the desired features across different stages of the development lifecycle.
3. Great code no great shakes without great design
Great code doesn’t suffice anymore. In an age where user experience is fundamentally redefining the way consumers engage with brands, design can make or mar a product’s fortunes. Look no beyond Apple and its array of consumer electronics products that have reset customer expectations around product quality, features and ease of use. No matter how quickly you can ideate and roll out new products, all your efforts and skills will count for nothing if they are not intuitive and user friendly.
4. It’s alright to fail
Rome was not built in a day, and therefore, you must reassure your team–regularly–that it’s alright to make mistakes. No team can perform to its true potential if it is operating in an environment of insecurity and fear. You should encourage your developers and designers to just give it their best shot, and constantly experiment with new ideas. “Fail fast, learn fast”, should be the mantra here.
This is where showing empathy and flexibility can work wonders for your team’s confidence. Many times, the team will be working against challenging deadlines, or battling to fix critical bugs and implement major enhancements in functionalities. In such situations, you have to be always approachable and accessible. Any team member should have enough confidence to walk up to you and share any problem they may be facing, knowing they will not be judged in any way.
5. Communicate and collaborate proactively
Being the senior most technologist in your company, you have to continuously maintain lines of communication with all relevant stakeholders. For capturing solution requirements from your internal “customers”, you must engage with them proactively, flag any clarifications swiftly, and keep them in the loop throughout the development lifecycle.
As far as communication within your team goes, you should promote a culture of exchanging information, ideas, feedback and concerns, whenever required. In tandem, healthy collaboration needs to be encouraged through provisioning of various tools and technologies, in order to foster teamwork.
The present and future belongs to those who can intelligently and effectively harness technology for superior differentiation in a cutthroat marketplace. If you are aiming to be the agent of change in your organization, then acquiring and honing these core skills will go a long way in helping you build mindshare and influence as CTO.