Home > Product Management, Software Engineering > To a CTO: “you are now responsible for alignment”. What to do next …

To a CTO: “you are now responsible for alignment”. What to do next …

It’s not uncommon for a new CTO to receive a new mission to align the evolution of technology roadmap with the  evolution of the company’s business.

So the immediate questions in the new CTO’s mind are …

– Is it a minor problem which requires a corrective action?

– Is it a fairly difficult problem to solve?   Probably – because clearly someone very senior with an ability to directly control or influence the outcome would be needed to engage and get it done

– Or perhaps this could be a symptom of a larger problem?    Very likely.

As companies grow and become more complex, the lack of alignment becomes more evident – just like the cars we drive at some point need wheel alignment.    This is not an automotive blog but it’s helpful to mention that wheel alignment is a very complex procedure of adjusting multiple suspension components to achieve desired driving characteristics.

Software companies also consist of major components.   It’s important to recognize that the CTO cannot align all components.   The CTO can only influence the alignment process by asking the right questions.  Some may not be very popular.    More on asking unpopular questions in a moment.   But then again – wheel alignment is not an easy procedure either.

The major components of a software company:

–  Turning ideas into product ideas (product management)
–  Turning product ideas into real products (engineering)
–  Evangelizing products in target markets and customer  segments (marketing / product marketing)
–  Selling products (sales)
–  Servicing customers (professional services and support)
–  Supporting the company operations (HR, administrative)

That’s it.    Only a few components – or functional areas – to align.

Alignment is first and foremost a leadership challenge, not a process or technology challenge.   And that’s why alignment starts with the most senior leader in the company:  the CEO.   The CEO needs to set the tone and adjust the measures of success of each senior leader in such a way that their success cannot be achieved without working effectively with other leaders. Only then alignment can become what I believe is the right way to recognize alignment:  continuous, effective and never mentioned again as a separate initiative.

I will share an experience that many readers can relate to.   It’s a launch of a new product with many problems which highlight (an extreme …) lack of alignment throughout the company.   For each problem – I will also include questions – perhaps unpopular yet very necessary – the CTO can ask.

The new product was intended for a new market segment outside of North America.

Problems and questions that were never asked at the right time:

– Resellers were not trained to sell the new product, leading to significantly lower revenue expectations.   “What is the plan to audit existing resellers, select resellers interested in selling this product?  When do we start training?  Where are the training materials?”

– Direct sales force did not receive any incentives to sell a new product.   “What changes do we have to consider in the sales compensation model to fuel adoption of the new product?”

– First few customers did not like certain capabilities.  Formal launch had to be delayed.  “How can the product management team incorporate an early adoption cycle in the product launch plan?  How can engineering team respond to problems or feedback points identified during the early adoption cycle?”

– The customer support team did not hire technical support engineers in the target country who could speak 3 additional languages.   “What are the customer support requirements?  What is the hiring plan?”

– The budget for launching the new product was not accurate.   Sales compensation changes were not included.   Reseller training costs were also not included.  “Did we recognize all the costs of launching the new product?  Who maintains an accurate financial model which incorporates the financial impact of all decisions and changes?”

– The company did not have an Integrated Product Launch (IPL) process which provided 100% visibility to all cross functional activities, milestones, and dependencies.   While the engineering team was busy building a new product, the customer support team wasn’t ready to support the new product on day one.    “Do we have a process to manage all activities, milestones,  and dependencies?  Who owns it?  Does this person have the authority?”

The last point is one I cannot say enough about.   Alignment can never be achieved without a set of real time measures, fully supported by all components of the organizations – ready to adjust in real time when needed.    That’s when alignment becomes a non-event: organic, continuous, and effective.   And that’s where any software company wants to be.   Great CTOs believe and practice alignment every day.

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