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You just arrived as a new CTO; step one – get on the road

December 8, 2009 2 comments

After a long and diligent recruiting cycle, you just arrived as a new CTO in an enterprise software company to lead both product management and software engineering activities.   What you will do in the first 2 weeks will be critical to your success.

Not all is well.  Revenues are flat.  Some large customers are at risk of not renewing their maintenance (or subscription) contracts.   The latest and long-awaited major release has been delayed.   The sales team also lost some sales superstars to competitors.

Try to make the first day a Friday.   You will need the entire next and your first week for a very specific purpose.

Friday:

– In the morning, meet with your direct reports, take them out to lunch, and apologize for not having any time for anyone during the first 2 weeks

– In the afternoon, meet with VP of Sales & Marketing and learn everything about revenues and customers

– Identify critical customers and ask VP of Sales & Marketing to make phone introductions.  Resist every attempt to have the sales person accompany you.  You want to send a polite message that your purpose is to listen, not sell.

Sunday:

– Get on the plane and travel to the first customer on your list

Monday – Friday, while meeting with selected customers:

– Learn everything about how the customers use the company’s products in their environment

– Get a list of critical bugs and defects

– Measure the flight risk – whether the customer may defect to a competitor

– Ask how the entire company – not just engineering team – serves the customer:   sales, professional services, customer support, training.  That’s the reason why you want to be alone while listening.    As a CTO you may build a great product but the professional services organization may not deploy the software correctly, creating an opportunity for competition.   Start collecting insights and real, unabridged feedback from the customer.

Monday (your second week):

– Meet with VP of Sales & Marketing to review the sales pipeline.   Get ahead of the business and critical ‘must close’ deals.

Tuesday:

– Meet with the owner of customer support organization.  This organization should have the same sense of urgency that you gained when meeting with customers last week.

Wednesday:

– Meet with the owner of professional services organization.   Again – the product deployment process should delight the customer.  Anything less?  Take notes.

Thursday:

– Meet with the CFO.   Learn the budget history and current budget metrics.

Friday:

– You are now well equipped to meet with your direct reports.

There is a reason why the new CTO should meet with his / her organization last.   You want to know as soon as possible if the organization is capable of meeting the demands of the business.   That’s why you spent the first 2 weeks:

– Getting the unabridged version of state of the business from real customers

– Learning how other organizations (customer support, professional services) serve the customer;  you cannot succeed alone

– Learning how much financial flexibility you have to address any problem

Finally, you are ready to learn if your organization can embark on the journey together with you.

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