Where CTO/F needs to be in Early Stage Development

In the early stages of a company’s growth, the Founder (assuming they are of a technical acumen) and/or if not CTO (Chief Technology Officer) needs to be focused on Product Delivery (we’ll call them the CTO/F for short).

To accomplish this goal, it’s important for the CTO/F to recognize and understand not only what they need to be doing at the product delivery stages but also all of the supporting aspects which will directly impact future growth.  What is important to understand is what work needs to be accomplished at each stage in delivery, how long your organization exists in that stage is up to you.

Initiate (0 – 6 Months)

During the period, the CTO/Fs chief focus must be on technology, product and people.  These are the core factors that will determine product viability and success. The number One goal of the CTO/F as it pertains to people at this stage is to ensure they are bringing in the right people that will prevent the CTO/F from becoming a bottleneck while assisting with overall organizational leadership duties as the company grows and develops.  It’s critical that the CTO/F recognizes this role now as the foundation built in this stage will be what propels the company forward in later stages.

I’ve mentioned product delivery as a key deliverable for any CTO/F, but the internal technology that supports that delivery is just as important.  In the early days, the guiding force will be “whatever you can download let’s use it and roll with it”, but as you grow this can cause more harm than it is worth.  It’s here the CTO/F should be looking further ahead to implement a measure of baseline consistency into the organization for things like communication (mail or messaging), document sharing, etc, etc so the team is not fighting each other on these issues between a variety of platforms.  Standardize on a package and move forward, Office365 or Gmail, whatever works, is what is needed to get moving. As much as possible in today’s age, keep it simple, keep it cloud and reduce your onsite storage costs as much as possible.

If you need to setup a server to host a particular package, ask yourself whether it will be worth it in the next year when you need to manage a complicated upgrade.

Adoption of technology and libraries that can reduce product delivery are also key.  Forget about the “it’s not built here attitude” and instead think about it as – “it’s built, it’s been tested, we can use this and save time and money” – let’s roll with it.

At this stage, the CTO/Fs best toolset is the spreadsheet and the evaluation of costs per person on the team.  When I say cost per person, I don’t mean the cost of their bugs or hours worked, but their minimum licensing costs per person.  At the very least, this becomes an invaluable tool for the CTO/F to have a clear understanding of the requirements in onboard new team members to the company.

Engage (6 – 12 Months)

At the 6 – 12 month mark, the CTO/F is still involved in Product Delivery but they are expanding their focus in a more strategic direction – customer trials, acquisition, on-site visits et al.  These are all critical paths to achieving product delivery and one the CTO/F is will still be leading.

During this period, the CTO/F should be looking towards bringing on a Product Manager to assist with managing delivery of the product but with an eye towards transitioning that individual into overall delivery while they (the CTO/F) begin to focus on more strategic and partner-based initiatives which will leverage the development team’s capabilities.  (i.e., trade groups, conferences, partner channels, etc).

Why do this?  

Standard sales channels are great, but recognition, word of mouth, partner referrals have a much shorter lead time to close than the traditional sales cycle because you are known, you are proven, you have put yourself out there and people don’t need to go through all the demos.  Being a leader in a field of technology and evangelyzing it is a great way to increase customer confidence in what is being built as well as establishing yourself as a leader in that industry.  As an example, Basecamp has parlayed this ethos into an entirely different side of their organization showing people what goes into building their software and why they can be trusted.

The caveat here is that you cannot lose focus on Product Delivery, start small and build up, Product Delivery is still #1.

Deliver (12 – 18 Months)

In the final push, the CTO/F should be looking to transition into a pure CTO role, at this point they should have a technical team(s) that are leading themselves to the CTO/F having transitioned to a coaching, mentor role while they focus on more development-wide initiatives (formal QA and automation practices).  By ensuring the right team is in place to keep product delivery going, the CTO/F should be focussed on working with the rest of the company’s leadership to execute delivery on their next Leap, whether it be in future product delivery, internal automation, team expansion or new market development.

If done properly, the foundations established in the Initiate and Engage phases should propel the CTO/F in the Deliver stage as they continue with the investments made in these early phases.

As previously indicated, don’t get hung up on the timelines, you might have a quick go to market for delivery than some (GREAT), you might require additional market identification (GOOD), the key, as always, is for the CTO/F to understand that the investment in leadership and delivery starts when they are building the product and the organization in the early stages, not after it goes out the door and customers are asking for more.

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