24 January 2009

Responsibilities of a CTO, CIO and other Technology Leaders

What does the CTO, CIO, IT Director, or VP of Technology do? There are many names, but what we're talking about is the person who owns all of technology for a business or an at least somewhat self-contained unit within a business. Of course this will vary a lot based on the size of the company and the company's raison d'ĂȘtre.

Context #1. I work for an Internet services oriented business. Its a medium sized business owned by a bigger business. I went back through a few months of my memories, emails and notes, here is what I was up to at one point or another.

Context #2. I have a strong belief that you should be clear on what you own versus what you do. I'm probably 50/50 between my own individual contributor work and IT management. So while I own and am responsible for all of technology for the business, most of the work is done by my team, while I do just a tiny little slice of of it. And to be fair, sometimes when I'm doing, I'm thinking about how to create leverage so I can shift what I'm doing to someone else and step back to just owning.

Context #3. IT output should always have a customer. I sometimes get tempted to pull in a product management capability into IT. This is typically due to lack of business engagement or my desire to offer a complete solution, particularly having team skills that enable us to think through complex requirements for our customers. We do this sometimes, with bitter-sweet results. The business has even less skin in the IT game and they become even more disinterested in the product and are reluctant to receive something they didn't help create (even though they didn't want to).

A similar pattern happens with backoffice systems. Right after something new goes live its possible that the project team knows the product better than the customer, especially if the customer has shied away from the hard business/domain logic thinking required to deliver a real product. The shorter the IT weening period the better.  From a cost and efficiency perspective, IT should get back to their main job of IT and the business must come to terms with their level of (sometimes lack of!) engagement during the project.

So in my world, Context #3 means IT doesn't own product management or non-technical product operations, or at least tries to hand it over as fast as possible.

With these contexts in mind, I've roughly divided my responsibilities into two sets: meta concerns and actual responsibilities.

The first are "meta" concerns - useful skills and traits which when bundled together help define leadership.

Meta Concerns (Leadership!)

  • Communication
    • Out - to customers
    • Up - to the CEO, board, shareholders (KPIs and dashboard views)
    • Across - to my peers - finance, operations, marketing, sales and accounts, product
    • Lots of wiki, lots of slides
    • Transparency encourages trust
    • Out in the open about failures - who messed up what and when; what you're going to change (and not change)
  • Drive and re-enforce important cultural attributes
    • Transparency
    • Over-communication
    • Wallow in failures - learn and improve
    • Incremental delivery
    • Make sure you know and understand what you own; don't treat everything as a black box; pick a few things and understand them in depth
    • Ownership
    • Learning - sharing information, retrospectives; curiosity
    • Sense of urgency
  • Change management
    • Organizationally
    • Major platform/product changes
  • Creating leverage
    • Both for myself and helping my team to do as well
    • Balancing supplier/external, outsourcing, contracting versus hiring leverage creation
    • When can the business afford to create leverage versus having to make do with what is already present (budget vs leverage)
    • Debunking leverage when it doesn't really exist but is represented to (internally, suppliers, in related businesses, as offered by others)
    • As can be funded by the business - I keep spinning out aspects of my job to those that make a full time job of it. Each should be better and more qualified at that job than me and I expect to be able to learn from them
  • Managing the politics
Areas of Responsibility

The following is a more practical view of what I own or do, all of which is supported by the meta level skills and traits above.
  • People
    • Organizational structure
    • Recruitment policies, methods, process
    • Recruitment plans, including consensus building, approval, sign-off, execution
    • Closing on preferred agencies if used for recruitment
    • Succession planning, risk management
    • Coaching and mentoring
    • Conflict resolution
    • In-house, outsource; contractor, consulting firm; build competency or not
  • Budget
    • Yearly overall definition
    • Expenses (human; everything else)
    • Capex
    • As driven by business strategy, key projects
    • Monthly to quarterly evaluation of actuals to targets; adjust and warn/alter where needed
    • Review and sign-off on invoices and expenses over a certain level
    • Re-negotiate changes
  • Technical strategy
    • Supports business strategy (and helps define it, take it to the next level of details and tradeoffs)
    • Communicated up/down/across/out in various ways
    • Evangelize the strategy overall, but typically aspects of it
    • Efficiency versus innovation balance
  • Enterprise/Systems/Software Architecture
    • Top level architecture (edge of systems, key subsystems, main software components)
    • When high spends are involved
    • When there are significant proposed changes in business strategy/direction
    • Particularly at the edges between teams and major components (e.g., QA to Release; supplier to internal integration)
    • Provide various views/summaries of the systems/software/components up/down/across
    • Evangelize and push priorities of "wiring and plumbing", "quality of life", and "-ilities" changes (e.g., stability, scalability; as often internally technically originated as driven by vague business requirements)
    • Emergent technology trends, what and how to take advantage of them
  • High level, first pass, "does this make sense", "can we do this" business development support
  • Work and delivery priorities
    • As meshed with business priorities
    • Project/portfolio planning - cross-portfolio coordination
    • Communicate and summarize out/up/down/across
    • Maintain close knowledge of where the business is, what people are thinking - I should be 90% right when I prioritize projects and allocate resource and the business will only fine tune around the edges if I'm close to to pulse of what is going on
    • Conversely, need to create consensus and buy-in on tech priorities to make sure business is in support
  • Outsourcing
  • Processes
    • Operational, delivery
    • Pioneer some processes, collaboratively build others
    • Drive incremental improvement
    • Internal and customer/partner facing
  • Initiatives
    • Directly own several themed high level initiatives to address systemic or complex issues that the business and IT team is otherwise struggling to address
    • The initiatives end up being composed of a number of projects. I do the work for the initiative itself but then own the related projects.
  • Mergers and acquisitions support
  • Be a catalyst to find break-through solutions when the business or team are stuck
    • Initial solution creation
    • Regular development
    • Hotsite issues
    • Come up with new options
  • Encourage incremental solutions
    • Be a catalyst in finding smaller increments to be delivered
    • Help business (non-tech) to take an incremental view
    • Help convert features/complexity into a managed risk
  • Provide brainstorming/input on how technology can be used to solve business problems
    • Have at least a basic understanding of all functional areas of the business
    • Communicate and collaborate in their language
  • Key supplier management
  • Networking in the community
    • Domain/sector specific
    • Relevant technology areas
  • Hotsites
    • Making sure that hotsites receive top priority and that everyone who needs to is paying attention and involved
    • Not just in tech, but also in non-tech cross-functionally where needed
    • Creative engagement of resources not normally available
  • Partner and customer interaction
    • Learning what they really want
    • Help craft solutions
    • Gain needs sensitivity to better create and prioritize solutions
  • Business domain knowledge, awareness of competition
  • Corporate IT interface point (if business is owned by a bigger business)
  • Corporate governance
    • Audits (statutory IT audit)
    • Board reports
    • Corporate, secretarial, treasury management of IT business units (e.g., outsource/offshore IT unit)
    • Government, regulatory compliance
  • Support development of business strategy
  • Contribute to product roadmaps, particularly very technical aspects
  • Quality assurance
  • Office/desktop IT/support
  • Policies
  • Security
Of course everyone is better or worse at these things - no-one can be excellent at all of them, especially on any given day.

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