While the INMA Product Advisory Council was discussing the partnership between product and technology, John Kundert, CPTO at Financial Times in the UK stopped us. The conversation had been very product-focused, and he gave us the perspective of a CTO (from a previous life).
That is where I want to start the discussion on the topic of product and tech because I think we can get lost in product and all the things we want to build and achieve.
A CTOs job covers many things, largely summed into three areas:
Keeping the organisation safe. Cyber security is increasingly an issue for larger organisations, and this must remain a priority (as we saw in December with The Guardian).
Keep everything up and running. From internal systems to external facing services, maintaining what we have will trump anything new that we want to build.
Deliver product capability.
Yes, product is third in line of importance. Sometimes we may need to remember that.
The other thing that came up from multiple people in the group is that a CTO wants to architect something sustainable, ideally a perfect end state. For that, the CTO and their team needs clarity on the future. Yet product can’t confidently predict where the business will be in three to five years. Just look how much the world has changed since January 2020, let alone since 2018. Without this clarity, it’s all too easy to make the mistake of building complexity or even the wrong thing.
Business goals often don’t help either: Building for the medium/long term, i.e. a perfect future state, rarely matches with the urgency to meet OKRs and revenue targets. Another member of the council pointed to the fact that sometimes teams can be biased to “shipping” for the short term rather than “building” for the long term. All of this contributes to conflicting objectives for teams, ultimately a CEO problem.
Lastly, in what appears to be my empathy plea for CTOs, we shouldn’t forget the effort it takes to close something down. Sunsetting a platform, a tool, a feature is hard work. Getting the buy-in, realising not all features are likely to be ported across to a new system, workflows may change, or edge cases may no longer be supported. This is not easy work.
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