As someone who has spent their career working with systems I have come to love a good framework. Taking a systematic approach to how things should operate enables me to conceptualize the tasks at hand and to identify gaps and weak spots so that they can be managed successfully. Identifying the component parts of my new role as Director of Software Innovation with ACETECH and weaving them together into a framework of sorts has helped me in these early stages to approach some difficult topics with confidence as well as quickly establishing where I can add value.
Having spent some time deep diving on where things are going well and where there are definite needs for improvements with my new employer, I have worked out that there are four major focus areas of the role:
- Product Management
- Team Leadership
- IT Management
- General Management
As I worked out how to group my work into focus areas and these four headings emerged, I realised that only the people focused area was about leadership in the truest sense whereas the other three seem more accurately defined as management areas. This is reflective of how I have assessed the job ahead of me and how I feel that so much of my focus needs to be on delivery and addressing certain key challenges with processes and approaches, as opposed to needing to “manage” the team I am working with. To put it more succinctly, the processes need management capability whereas the people deserve leadership.
The main thrust of the role is about delivering software products. ACETECH produces IoT devices that are installed into vehicles to aid in the management of the vehicle, the operation of the vehicle and more, on into areas like real-time tracking of high-value assets. In order to unlock the value of these devices, customers are given access to a suite of software tools delivered in a SaaS model, that enables them to view, manipulate, and derive even more value from the data that is captured from the devices on their vehicles.
All software benefits from strong product management, and there is a definite opportunity here to implement some new approaches to product management that I am sure will help to improve the pace of delivery while also better addressing the needs of our customers.
While there is significant focus on the Product Management aspects of the job, for me the most important aspect of the job is managing the development teams, meaning directly managing the team based in Tullamore but also working with remote teams around the world, both in-house and outsourced.
Managing a team is an absolute joy, either regardless of the challenges or maybe because of them. Walking into a situation where a team has been without direct technical management for a little while was especially interesting as it had highlighted the value a manager can bring to a team in terms of offering guidance on activities for a given period, providing structure in terms of how things need to be done, delivering feedback and developmental advice, but most essentially acting as a buffer between often conflicting needs of the business who had gotten used to approaching engineers directly and demanding action on a variety of things.
The nature of managing the outsourced teams is different in that their performance management is more clear cut from my perspective but I still want them to operate in a certain way, to utilize the same tools as everyone else, and to align their processes as closely as possible when it comes to areas like Agile. The distance and time zone differences are challenges but not insurmountable especially when taken properly into consideration – simple tricks like including the timezones of the outsourced teams on my Outlook calendar are gentle reminders that other people are experiencing their day at a different point to us when scheduling meetings or calls.
Every company is in someway a technology company due to the reliance on Information Technology that all businesses have. In order to be able to unlock the value of that technology there is an ever present need for someone to be thinking about how the internal network is managed, how the hardware and software we need is purchased and supported in the long run, and how the whole operation can be kept secure.
In a practical sense, for smaller organisations there’s little chance of having a dedicated Systems Administrator, despite the need for that type of focus, and ours is no different with Sys Admin falling to members of the Software Engineering team. I’m not opposed to this in principle as that team are the ones best placed to look after the running of a network but also because it’s good practice for those who are tasked with looking after a cloud estate to understand the fundamentals of networks and the types of issues you will encounter when users are unleashed and where better to learn that in a realistic but also relatively safe manner than a company LAN?
As a member of the leadership team, I have a duty to contribute to the broader running and direction of the company as a whole, beyond my areas of direct responsibility as part of a holistic management structure. That being said, there is a significant opportunity for me to address the impact of software and data products on the strategic development of the company, by looking at how software can drive sales and help push the company into new markets.
More broadly though, this part of my role is for me all about delivering at a higher level, about making a mark on how the company will grow into the future, about setting the tone in terms of culture particularly around diversity and inclusion, and about guiding us to greater success through initiatives like strategic partnerships with other technology organisations but especially with local educational institutions, and not just for recruitment purposes but also to contribute to, and of course benefit from, original research.
There is always more to a role than can ever be accurately captured in a job spec and it is this element of possibility that often brings the most rewards from work; in the spaces between the lines of a job description lies the chance to do something wonderful, though it is something of a skill to be able to spot those opportunities. To that end I have found that, in the early days of starting in my new position at least, it has been beneficial to classify the major areas where I can make an impact and thus put some level of structure around where I need to focus my attentions and where I can develop the technology offerings of ACETECH.