There I was, a young developer, suddenly thrust into the role of CTO. Right off the bat I was given quite the budget. Working with another talented and trusted programmer, I naively handed the reigns over to him and told him to hire a bunch of people and assemble a team. We brought about 10-15 people on board and began to develop like crazy. Within a month it was an absolute mess.
Keep the team tight
Although delegation is essential, I still have to offer a structure under which my teams are built. Second, I need to know how to validate and monitor my leaders. And third, the person who brought you growth might not always be the right person to manage things later. Some people create and others manage. You can do both, but not always. It returns to the concept of the modern CTO. Not all developers are built for the job.
In general, I follow these simple guidelines when building teams:
- No more than five people total
- 1-3 developers
- 1-2 designers
- Separate the back end from the front
- Each team has very specific goals
Turns out this approach is backed up by data. A QSM study compared large development teams (around 20 people) to small ones (5 people). For time to finish, large teams got things done about a week sooner. But when you look at cost, big teams spent an average of $1.8M while the small teams only spent $245k. Ouch.
Teams are like code
My teams are structured the way I like to structure code – clean, concise, and with a keenly defined goal. They are small isolated classes that have a single responsibility. It brings to mind the Law of Demeter which is an old code that withstood the test of time and still works brilliantly. Why makes the Demeter application so resilient? The structure of the code base is small and distributed, and it designates single responsibilities. Development teams thrive under this structure as well.
For example, for large projects I’ll break out teams to build iOS, Android, or React Native bindings while other components are being developed by other teams. When the time comes for integration, everything is ready to be assembled. I also follow the business world’s lead. That is, I have high level leaders who then manage leaders within smaller teams. This sets up a diverse ecosystem, kind of like a rainforest, with each individual component doing its thing to achieve a larger integrated goal.
Group remote workers together since they get it
Today’s enterprise has people located all over the planet. How do I handle time zone differences? Here, I’ve discovered another key factor: experience – but not experience measured in years, but rather whether they’ve been part of teams with scattered time zones. It’s an acquired skill versus those accustomed to working with people only in their own time zone. So I group the odd time zoners together. I also avoid micromanagement completely. In fact, I only intervene if they don’t reach their goals. Free thinking people produce better things faster.
Yes, you may sit with Timmy
Finally, personality mix is hugely important to me. As a tech person, I must realize that people aren’t widgets that work well no matter where you plug them into. If needed, I’ll move people across teams to find the right combination. I scan for personality conflicts constantly since they always hamstring progress. Think about it. What makes you more mad at work than anything? A person’s attitude, right? How much time and energy is wasted fuming over someone that bugs you? I keep my teams lean and harmonious, and we all go home smiling at the end of the day.
Leverage others experience
Team growing? Looking to establish a local or remote culture? This can be tricky. The people at the top in life are always working, growing and improving with the help of others. It’s how you got to where you are, and it’s how you will get up through the next stage on your journey. I have experience that you can leverage. If you don’t use me, use someone else. The point is for you to get what is on your mind resolved immediately, don’t wait. Set an appointment with me and tell me about your situation so I can help. Click this link to reach out. Something else on your mind? Whatever you need, I’m here. Life is meant to be done together, just reach out.
This post comes from my upcoming book, Modern CTO. Pre-register for a copy here.