The principle here is simple: Balance your leadership contribution to the People, Product, and Process while keeping your eyes on the horizon. We are going to start this outsmarticle with a negative contrast. It drives home with clarity how simple this principle is, and how damaging it is to ignore. Consider a newly-promoted CTO. He is in his early thirties, was promoted from developer to lead to CTO within the past few years, and is a tad dazzled by the new responsibility of his role at a ~$2B retailer.
Balance your leadership contribution to the People, Product, and Process while keeping your eyes on the horizon
When asked if he had any thoughts on how he might improve delivery effectiveness, the process, he had not thought about it and showed zero interest in doing so. Suggestions were made: review and improve Agile practices, declare a direction WRT the as-yet-undecided cloud strategy and platform, rebalance the legacy-driven imbalance between Business, Product, and Dev… It was all unfamiliar – he hadn’t been asked to do this before and the unfamiliar is often hard to start.
When asked if he had thoughts on how the product was placed in the market, or if he had a strategy for where the company should go, he responded; “None of that matters. I only focus on resourcing. I make sure the right people are where I want them to be.” (By the way, his definition of “right people” has little to do with ability and lots to do with whether or not they are loyal to his agenda.
So he plans on spending his first month as CTO 100% focused on people. Setting aside even that his particular approach to getting that right is suitable only in quite specific circumstances, this guy is just not doing his job. (This particular example highlights one of the many cancers of nepotism.) There is so much cringe-worthy material in this interaction, CTO or otherwise. Let’s break it down.
People are (usually) a company’s most valuable asset. They translate the vision of the company into work and value. This one is rather simple, really, treat them well. Invest in them and their growth and happiness. Challenge them, lead them, build trust with them, be a leader. So many halls are littered with clockwatchers reporting to barely attentive managers. Those employees are more than a drain on your G&A, they are actively blocking your ability to innovate and respond to market changes. We could go on and on. The point is, pay attention to your People, however that works for you and your business.
Your Product is a magical alchemist. It turns a business opportunity into cash. Do you have a strong product-market fit and a sound strategy for evolving with the market? This is where customers come in, by the way – are you in tune with them? Do you have unique differentiators or advantages? What is your right to win? Do you know, at a deep, intimate level why and how your product is valuable, differentiated, and loved by your customers? Again, this is a short outsmarticle – I’m not seeking to write the book here. Pay attention to your Product.
Great Process helps smart people make good decisions. Are your processes scaled appropriately for your business? Especially those PM processes – is there enough rigor? My Scrum teams are often surprised when we do the math on how much salary goes into funding each Sprint Iteration. (Do the math – does it surprise you? Are you doing enough planning to justify that investment each iteration?) Bad process is an encumbrance, a nuisance, and dogmatic. Where can you spend energy helping your organization get more out of itself? Pay attention to your Process.
Balanced is Better
So let’s revisit that conversation we recounted earlier. Another leader at the same company, similar conversation. She was actively and visibly engaged in efforts across the company that were impacting each of People, Product, and Process. People felt empowered, led, and energized. The Product was getting a much-needed fresh look and an infusion of innovation. Process improvements were being driven organically from the bottom up as well as from leadership down.
Which approach do you suspect will meet with success – the newly minted CTO or the veteran leader? More importantly, does this approach speak naturally to your values and instincts? It’s a bit of a wobble board, as you can’t pay attention to all three at once and every once in a while one of them taps the floor to remind you to reset. That’s okay – find your balance while keeping your eyes on the horizon.