I recently mentored a startup which was developing quite a complicated project that involved developers from multiple locations and whose native languages differed. In part due to the complexity, and in part because of communication issues, portions of key concepts and goals were not properly understood along the way.
In order to ensure the smooth development of your project, it is important to understand and define the roles of each member of the team, and also to communicate and check the understanding throughout the process.

Product owner

The product owner is a key component of the team because they will write and organize the specifications to build the product. They will look at the many goals and features that are desired, and then hone in on the few that should be developed first. These features must not only be relevant to act as a test case to prove the product’s value to the market, they must also meet the expectations set by the people promoting and selling the product concept.

This person must have the technical skills to understand the development process and what is required, and must be able to communicate this to the founder (who may not have a technical background) in order to convince them to move ahead with the plan that makes the most sense in terms of time, money and impact.

Chief technical officer (CTO)

The CTO is someone who has the essential technical skills or an understanding of what is required to manage specialized team members. It is likely that if your product will use multiple complex technologies that you may require several developers and that they may be located in different places around the globe. The CTO must have the skills and knowledge to understand what this team needs to do and be able to pull them together to achieve the goal.

The role of the CTO also includes defining how much time will be required to achieve the first model, and how much it will cost to get there. This person will help the product owner prioritize and decide what to build first.

Set an action plan

Once you have the vision for version one, it is important to set an action plan to outline how you will achieve the goal. This plan will act as a checklist for what is needed. It is important to be critical of the plan to challenge your thought process to ensure that all considerations have been included, that technical challenges are understood ahead of time, and that any significant risks are eliminated. This is where the final decision of whether to move ahead or not will be made.

Some of the risks and challenges may also be legal in nature. If you are wishing to hold client information for instance, you need to be clear in understanding what you can and cannot hold and how information must be managed.

Part of the action plan will also involve determining who you are going to work with, what strengths they bring to the team, and also what weaknesses they possess that may need to be overcome.

The right skills and the right time

The rest of the development team should be built based on what required skill sets are needed at the time. In adding team members, it is best to work with short-term commitments. This will help ensure you are building a team that can work together, that is a good fit, and that if someone is not a fit, there is no long-term obligation. This can also satisfy the need you may have for a specific skill set just for a short period of time.

Testing communication

Along the way, it is important to test the team members’ understanding of the goals and vision. Between the founder, the product owner and the CTO, each should be able to mirror back to the other their understanding of what is to be achieved. The CTO then must ensure that each member of the development team can mirror back, or explain back to the CTO, their specific role and function, what they are expected to develop, and in what timeframe.

By testing communication along the way, you ensure that nothing is misunderstood and that everyone is working towards the same vision.

Building a startup is a long process. There are many things that need to be understood, and decisions to be made based on understanding. If you want to learn more, feel free to check out my free course to help CEOs with this process.


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