For a non-technical startup founder, the term “IT” can have a scary sound to it. It gets even scarier when I mention that the CTO role of the IT manager should be—for the most part—taken on by them. It doesn’t have to be scary. Once your tasks are clear and you’ve done your homework, there’s nothing you can’t master. That includes becoming a great IT manager for your startup.
This a sneak peek of my upcoming book, Startup Without a CTO, and the third in a four-article series on how to properly fulfill the roles of a startup CTO. In this series, we break down what a CTO actually does, and we guide you through taking over and delegating those tasks to make it work when you don’t have one.
If you’re learning how to build a startup without a CTO, you should also read Part 1: Being a good product manager in your startup, and Part 2: Shaping your product with expert tech advice.
Apply the roadmap
On the first article of this series, we talked about the CTO role of the product owner and how one of its main responsibilities is to define the roadmap. When it comes to the IT manager, this roadmap becomes the blueprint for your entire operation and one of your main tasks is to apply it properly.
To do this, the IT manager needs to break up the roadmap into even smaller chunks and prioritize them as well, setting short-term team goals and review them constantly. The trick here is to respect the general roadmap but still integrate new prioritization factors.
One example of this is prioritizing according to technologies. Depending on your solution, it might make more sense to develop the interface first, or maybe the backend, or the database structure. All to ensure you accomplish two things:
Stay on course
This is as simple as making sure your developer is doing exactly what he or she is supposed to do.
Developers don’t prioritize according to business, they think in terms of code: “What’s easiest to develop?,” “What am I going to need first?” They might get excited and spend a bit more time on a certain feature that you, looking at the bigger picture, might consider secondary.
That’s where the IT manager steps in. You want to keep tabs on what your team is investing their time on, and make sure that the developer’s priorities are in line with the company’s.
Make your team effective
It’s key to optimize how your team works. Analyze the workflow, the communication channels, task dependency, tools used. Make sure they all understand what they have to do and how they have to do it.
They should all know how to use the task management tools for your project, and if they do know how to use them but don’t, figure out why and fix it. Don’t force any tool on them, work with their preference (within reason), and that will make for the smoothest workflow.
A great manager listens
This applies for IT managers as well. The key to success when managing any team is proper communication. In the case of early-stage startups, it’s even more important since there’s so much at stake and the teams tend to be small, any misunderstanding can set you back and hinder your chances of success.
One of the greatest advantages a CTO brings to the table is the ability to act as a translator. No, you don’t have to add multilingual to the already long list of CTO requirements, don’t worry. What I’m referring to is facilitating communication between founders and developers. You might surprised, but it truly is like a different language. Both might be speaking about the same project, but one is talking “business” and the other one is talking “tech,, and usually neither one speaks the other one’s language.
When taking on the CTO role of the IT manager, it’s your job now to become somewhat literate in “tech.” For the 100th time: No, you don’t have to learn how to code. You just have to learn how it works overall; use all the resources at your disposal (My CTO Friend included) to get the gist of the moving parts.
The whole point is to listen to your team, listen to your experts. Be able to understand their feedback enough to consider it within the grand scheme of things, and apply it when appropriate.
Finding the right people
It doesn’t make much sense to listen, when you’re surrounded by the wrong people. The CTO as an IT manager is also in charge of hiring and/or outsourcing the best possible people for your tech team.
This entails being able to write job descriptions, understand provider’s proposals, evaluate previous work, etc. You can learn to do most of these things. But for certain parts, you should always have one or two experts at hand. For example, there are certain things that have to do with the quality or the documentation of the code. For these, it’s always faster and more reliable to have someone who truly knows the best practices of a specific language or framework.
The source code must belong to the company it was developed for
Don’t build your home on rented land!
I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen this cause trouble for a startup, so just don’t. An IT manager needs to make this perfectly clear to the team before starting your work together. The whole process of development should allow for a daily repository system that the company cannot lose access to. There are plenty of ways to ensure this, and it’s now your job to apply them.
Next article in the series will cover how to properly fulfil the CTO role of the innovator.