What does it take to support excellence in your software organization? Taking advantage of basic project frameworks and status reporting systems can empower you to effect organizational change from any level. Here's how to make it happen.
No matter how talented you are, you cannot fully succeed in an organization that does not adequately support you. In technology development, that foundation is essential-for teams to form and dissolve to meet important business objectives, for personal commitment to align with organizational goals, and for everyone to contribute intellectually to the best of their ability and experience. Talent can fully flower, and individual effort and skill produce the best results, only when surrounded by other top performers in an organizational culture that supports excellence. What does it take to support excellence?
My experience-from overseeing product and project management to sitting in the CTO's chair, in both very large and small companies-has shown me a clear answer. The foundation of an effective organization is a project-oriented culture.
Large-scale, technology-based development is both highly team oriented and highly intellectual, operating in business and technical environments that are constantly undergoing rapid change. Only a project-oriented culture can effectively mobilize teams and enable individuals in those environments to contribute their best thoughts and efforts toward accomplishing complex and innovative goals.
The challenge is that building project cultures is difficult, and even the best are works in progress. But understanding some of the elements of organizational effectiveness-and taking some personal ownership for implementation in your place of work-will help you shape your environment so that you are more effective, successful, and happy.
Start by Thinking like a CTO
If you are going to help your company be a great place to work, you need to do a little thinking like a Chief Technology Officer (CTO). Take a big-picture look: What are the organizational elements that result in outstanding technology-based development? A technology/product architecture. Effective project and product management. Adequate support processes and tools. These elements must be layered on top of the base-and that base is your project culture.
Exploring each of these items in-depth is beyond the scope of this article. Here we'll focus on the project orientation foundation: the set of formal rules and procedures, combined with the informal expectations of management and staff, about how work is done and information is shared. Without a strong project culture, teams do not get formed effectively; technology architecture cannot be implemented; project and product management cannot be effective; and adequate support processes and tools cannot be implemented.
You can make a difference. Behaving like a great tester, developer, or manager means doing your core job functions exceptionally well (e.g., testing), and using your "CTO-type" organizational understanding to help build better business systems around you. You can embrace this big-picture perspective, whether you see yourself as the reclusive engineer who wants to be left alone or on the fast track to upper management. Wherever you fall in that spectrum, you can profit-professionally and personally-from helping your organization improve.
Sometimes people ascribe to the leader of an organization awesome powers to control events and make improvements. I can assure you, having served as the head of a development group for the past several years, that this perception is overblown. Building an effective organization takes people at all levels. The most the official leader can do is help set the goals and vision, provide support, hire well, and insist on a few essential items. Many of the recommendations I make here for how you can improve your organization are actions I have seen people take in my own; others are actions I wish I could get folks to take. The bottom line is that leadership-deciding to make a difference-is not just for formal organization managers.
Diagnosing Your Culture
Imagine the symptoms of an organization lacking a project