Building a Productive Software Team in the First 90 Days - a 5 Step Guide for CTOs

As a newly appointed CTO or Engineering Leader, the first 90 days in the role, company or project is a critical time; get it right in this quarter and you’ll put yourself on the path to successful delivery. But getting it wrong could lead you down a very different path of missed deadlines, overspending and dysfunctional teams.

We recently co-hosted a thought-provoking discussion with the London CTOs community, led by Barry Cranford at RecWorks, where our Codurance COO Steve Lydford was joined by Sandro Mancuso, Simon Kirk, Ian Kershaw and Anna Danielewska-Tułecka to share their experiences and recommendations for success in the first 90 days and how to build a productive team.

Below we capture the five key strategies these leaders shared to help you make the most of this critical period.

1. Building Trust: The Foundation of Success


Trust is the cornerstone of effective leadership. During your initial days, focus on establishing trust with your team and stakeholders. Demonstrate empathy, show a genuine interest in their concerns, and act in the best interests of the team rather than solely pursuing your own agenda. 

In the first 30 days its important to establish a relationship of trust, but then over the next 60 days and beyond take action to deliver on that trust. 


2. Understanding the Landscape: Identifying Challenges and Opportunities with Data


Before diving into the day-to-day operations, take the time to understand the challenges and opportunities facing your organisation. What problems are you expected to solve? Is there a need for turnaround or realignment? Conduct thorough data gathering, including assessing the quality metrics, identifying areas of conflict, and benchmarking against industry standards. This information will inform your strategic decisions and help you align technology with the organisation's goals.

It can become political to collect data on current people and work so have a strategy on who and how you will present the findings to get maximum buy-in and avoid alienating people you have only recently started working with. Don’t come in to start a revolution.

3. Crafting Your Role: Defining Objectives and Expectations


Define your role and responsibilities within the organisation during the first 90 days. Clarify what success looks like for both you and the business. Identify allies and stakeholders who can provide valuable insights and support your initiatives. Communicate your vision and mission clearly, ensuring alignment across the team. Remember, your goal is to deliver tangible value as soon as possible while laying the groundwork for long-term success.

4. Align your technology strategy to the business 


Software is the DNA of most businesses so must be central to the strategy. A new CTO must look at the overall business to make technology-related decisions. It is therefore imperative to talk to the business in their language to work out what to do in order for the business to succeed. 

Mapping out who the key stakeholders are, what motivates them and building coalitions with them is important, across the entire business - not just the C-Suite. Find out who the gatekeepers are and find ways into conversations. Making yourself vulnerable is important so people can be honest back and feel safe to share.


5. Developing Talent: Investing in Growth and Succession


Invest in talent development and succession planning from the outset. Mentorship programs can help nurture emerging leaders and equip them with the skills they need to succeed. Consider promoting from within while also recruiting externally to bring fresh perspectives to the team. Provide opportunities for continuous learning and growth, whether through training initiatives or strategic hires.

Create a succession plan if you have been promoted into the role of CTO to ensure business continuity as you step up.

In conclusion, the first 90 days as a CTO can present a unique opportunity to set the stage for your success. By prioritising trust-building, strategic alignment, stakeholder engagement, and talent development, underpinned by data, you can navigate this critical period with confidence and lay the groundwork for long-term impact. 

Talk to us for advice on navigating your own journey as a new tech leader and how to improve your software productivity. 


Our Software Quality Assessment helps you make confident decisions, underpinned by empirical data. 

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