Tech Leadership: The Work Is Not the Work

Tech executives, especially those coming from a substantial hands-on background, naturally gravitate towards focusing on rote delivery. In my work, I often see clients toting grandiose roadmaps that boil down to “we will do what Product has asked,” but less succinctly.

Of course, delivery is essential. If you don’t deliver, no one cares how nice your code is or how happy your employees are. Nonetheless, only focusing on “shipping it,” one sprint at a time, is incredibly myopic. What I’m trying to inculcate in my clients is the fact that the role of a tech executive is to think bigger and more long term. Anyone can stress about the current sprint. It takes wherewithal to raise your head, look ahead, and plan how you’re going to get to the destination.

Change Management and Seniorification

When it comes to an R&D group, the best ROI you can provide as a tech executive is when you focus on growing the talent and making it easier for them to be productive. Nurturing the talent is what I sometimes refer to as seniorification.

Instead of investing gazillions of dollars and a thousand hours in hiring a single new senior engineer, consider investing in creating a culture that enables your existing employees to gain experience and learn rapidly. It’s tricky but doable. I’ve written more about it recently.

The second leg is change management. No organization is perfect (and even if you have something you’re excellent at, things will soon change, and you will have to readjust). Leadership requires you to make a habit of improving the processes and systems in the team in order to raise the bar continuously.

Change management is the name of the game here. Instead of debugging code, you need to learn to debug processes. Instead of measuring build times, you should measure change times. Rather than focus on your sprint board, focus on your change initiatives. The best executives I work with realize that this “higher plane” is where they should be spending their efforts, this is the work.

Keeping track of the ongoing change initiatives, coaching your people to run these, and working on your speed of change will result in better delivery in the long term. Instead of flooring the gas pedal and tailgating, you are working on planning the best route to get there to avoid traffic.

How often do you think about the way your team works and not just about the currently due tickets? Are you leading or merely supervising?