This is a article on: Value Optimization, Servant Leadership, and User Experience

Technology Leadership

This article is dedicated to everyone who has ever worked with me, whether they were my manager, my peer, or my report. Thank you.

1 Arriving in Tech Leadership

Why do many strong individual contributors struggle when promoted to management?

Leadership is a separate skill set.

Where many managers already lack an understanding of Technology, the difference between Technology and Technology Leadership is even more confusing. This sort of confusion is also present around other disciplines like Sales vs Sales Leadership.

2 Who can be a successful Tech Leader?

There are to general paths to becoming a Technology Leader:

In one case you start as a Technologist, typically a very strong individual contributor, and become a Leader. In this case you have a robust skillset for understanding how systems are constructed, the types of pitfalls you have encountered in the past, and how to find solutions. For you to be successful, we need to build your Technology Leader skillset.

In the other case you start as a Leader, and you are asked to oversee Technology. Your struggle will be larger, as Technologists will not envision you as a peer worthy of technical respect. You will need to demonstrate not just your abilities to lead Technologists, but provide evidence you have the ability to positively contribute as a Technologist and understand how your team expects to be shown professional respect.

Consider The IT Crowd series 3 episode 4, when Leader Jen was introduced to "The Internet" by Technologist Moss. For those unsure, no, that is not the internet.

3 How do I become a successful Tech Leader?

The Technology Leader must recognize that regardless of their path, it is the Technologists they lead who are the subject matter experts, to be respected as capable individual contributors. The Technology Leader's job is about finding the best way to develop and leverage those capabilities.

If you are currently a Technologist, we can take your strong technical skills and use them as a pivot to become a strong Technology Leader.

If you are currently a Leader, we can optimize the way you approach Technology to shorten the time needed to gain respect as a Technology Leader.

The above image shows a mapping of desirable attributes to Technology skills and Technology Leadership skills. We will explore these mappings individually to identify the best ways to improve your skillset to meet the challenges of Technology Leadership.

4 Accurate

Technologists are defined not by the technologies they work with, but by their ability and approach to assimilating comprehensive knowledge of a thing, then applying this knowledge in solving problems.

Technology breaks. Technologists leverage their knowledge of how things work to identify how technology has broken, to make rapid fixes to complex systems, and to identify ways to prevent systems from breaking in the future.

Technologists benefit when their Technology Leaders:

  • Afford them time to pursue analysis, learning, and testing without micromanagement.
  • Take the time to understand all data and analysis provided by their Technologists, recognizing that their Technologists are strong individual contributors.
  • Make timely decisions to lift blockers.
  • Permit and enable them to consult outside resources -- manuals, peer groups, vendor support, training -- to increase their abilities.
  • Credit them with resolving problems rather than taking the credit.

Technology Leaders cannot guarantee the accuracy of Technologists, but they can establish processes that support and promote accuracy:

  • Decision-making processes that trigger actions to implement solutions to problems.
  • Design processes that ensure the correct problem is identified before solutions are created.
  • Risk Management processes that reduce the likelihood the team will be blindsided with grave issues.
  • Incident Response processes that protect the focus of the team and drive communications.
  • Optimization of existing processes to streamline workflow as to reduce the burden of the team.

5 Caring

Technologists dislike stress. Technologists hate stressors. Their strongest tool in preventing stress is consistency. Their strongest ally in establishing consistency is the Technology Leader. Their biggest foe in establishing consistency is the Technology Leader.

Technology solutions are complicated. In designing, implementing and maintaining solutions the Technologist benefits when systems align to clear sets of rules and behavior. Consistent systems are easier and require lower overhead to produce. It is easier to identify points of inconsistency when troubleshooting systems that began in a consistent state.

Technologists benefit when their Technology Leaders:

  • Show up.
  • Help set standards for consistency of process and environment.
  • Make timely and consistent decisions backed by evidence.
  • Enforce standards of consistency both within the team, in their individual actions, and to external parties like peers and stakeholders.
  • Accept deviations from the standard only if Technologists deem necessary.

Technology Leaders cannot guarantee Technologists will care, but they can cultivate a caring environment as they make decisions:

  • Include Technologists in work to produce Decision Support evidence.
  • Never make decisions based on raw data, instead form understanding of data before making decisions.
  • Retain all data used for Decision Support, and record of the resulting decisions, to enable improved and lower-overhead decision-making in the future.
  • Empower Technologists to make Technology decisions as the approver, with the Technology Leader taking responsibility for the resulting implementation.
  • Make decisions not based on choice but based on Testing the options, generating evidence of the optimal solution.

6 Respectful

Technologists working on customer-facing products will have some involvement in User Experience (UX). Seasoned UX professionals know the value of UX is not just in visual design, but in the toolset to identify the correct problems through User Research, perform User Testing to select the optimal solution, and expedite implementation through prototypes. UX allows the business to show respect for its users needs while also showing respect for the time investment made by Technologists.

Technologists providing end-user support and operations have some involvement in Customer Experience (CX). Seasoned CX professionals know the value of CX comes from respect for the customer's pain points, ability to receive suitable resolution, and value they deliver to the company.

Technologists benefit when their Technology Leaders:

  • Enable them to see the results of their UX and CX work.
  • Observe how UX and CX professionals show respect to the needs of the business and customer.
  • Recognize the value of UX and CX disciplines and specialized skillsets.
  • Ensure data from UX and CX processes is used in decision-making.
  • Integrate UX and CX leaders as direct stakeholders in (at a minimum) Product and Risk decisions.

Technology Leaders cannot guarantee the business will show respect for Technologists, customers, or problems, but they can help ensure business actions are structured to optimize value:

  • Qualitative and quantitative data should be used as evidence in decision-making.
  • Time should be invested to understand data from market research, brand experience research, user experience research and testing, and customer experience delivery such as end-user support.
  • Time should be invested to identify and understand the problems facing the business from regulatory requirements, internal pain points, and risk management.
  • Understanding of value should be used to set a shared focus with Technologists.
  • The work of Technologists should be measured and recognized as quantifiable results.

7 Continuous Improvement

Like Technologists, the Technology Leader must continually invest and improve their skillset to enable use of technologies to respond to the changing business landscape.

The strongest lessons are learned in the trenches. Your success depends most on where you seek counsel. Your team will depend on you for their success. Your value will depend on the investment you make in your team.