The Pillars of Purview of the Successful CTO/CIO

So, as we’ve now discussed, you, the CTO or CIO, brought in to oversee the technology areas of your company, are paradoxically not really there predominantly for technology. Even if you like to think of yourself as a technogeek (and most of us do, frankly), if you want to be effective in the overall role of this chief information technology officer, you’ll need to broaden your approach. Then what is your purview as CTO/CIO?

Call it marketecture if you want, but I’ve found it useful to separate my role into five major areas, all of which happen to begin with P. I call these the 5 Pillars of Purview, and they represent, for CTO/CIO responsibilities in general, a model or framework that I’ll be referring back to in this blog.

  • People Career path, evaluations, coaching, hiring, firing, compensation, public relations to the rest of the company, communicating, motivating, rewarding
  • Process How are projects spawned and prioritized and appropriate resources allocated? Is the way that you “bake” and release software clearly understood and fully under control? How is your quality assurance? What do your internal users think?
  • Product How are you progressing your company’s products or services? What’s around the corner that you’ll need to deal with?
  • Projects Which projects are on track? Which are lagging? Why, and what can you do?
  • Performance How are your systems performing? Response time? Bugginess? Stability? How do you know?

The successful CTO/CIO has to spend major portions of his time understanding, monitoring, and improving each of these areas. To neglect any of them is to permit entropy to squeeze in the cracks.

While operations is not specifically separated out in the above, other than in the last, all of the first four areas pertain equally well to software development and to technology operations. In fact, another peril of the CTO role is if he or she focuses on development to the neglect of operations, or vice versa. I’ve come to realize that a good deal of the discipline of the job involves a careful and intentional balancing of all these aspects. Most of us will naturally gravitate to one or two or three of them, with an equally natural tendency to let the others slide (or at the very least, to take them for granted, which will eventually lead to a slide).

I’ve found it useful to set up clear and regular mechanisms for myself so that I can avoid this trap. These mechanisms differ for each of the Pillars and for the situation: they can be regular meetings, specific forms of progress report (with the self-commitment to read these carefully and respond to any yellow and red alerts they contain), informal but frequent “walking around” sessions to touch bases with internal customers, surveys, etc. Yes, I’ve learned the necessity of having to manage by exception, dealing swiftly and strongly with areas that are out of whack, but I’ve also learned not to descend into constant firefighting either. Proactive, ongoing work — what I like to refer to as “showing up every day” — tends to stop fires from breaking out in the first place.

I’ll be talking a lot more in this blog about these sorts of proactive and balanced measures, and will point back to this article as the overall framework: the 5 p-p-p-p-Pillars of Purview. They don’t cover absolutely everything a CTO/CIO needs to think about — it’s just a model after all — but they come pretty close.

You’ll see me cite seminal books in the field fairly regularly, across the spectrum of IT-related concerns. Here is the first batch. Although all of these merit close reads, I’ve starred the ones that I have found to be personally indispensable books to the growth in my thinking.

*Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams, by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister

*Rapid Development, by Steve McConnell

Creating a Software Engineering Culture, by Karl Wiegers

Quality Software Management: Anticipating Change (Quality Software Management), by Gerald Weinberg

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