portraitI had a ping recently to remind me that people actually read my blog and its been a while since I posted.  That does happen when you take a new gig. I’ve been working on several ideas in my Evernote and so it is definitely time!

I recently had one of my new team members ask, so what does it take to be a VP.  I was instantly reminded of the famous “So You Want to Be a Computer Programmer” post.  With a little less sarcasm, here’s my take on what you need to be a successful executive in this business:

  • Ability to see big picture – beyond a specific instance of a problem to understand the cultural, process, and personal reasons of the situation.  For example, if a team is missing sprint commitments it’s easy to see, but uncovering the core issues and what is driving them can be tougher.
  • Ability to set, communicate an effective vision, strategy, and goals – you must be able to explain the why.  Great teams care as much about the why as the what.
  • Deep understanding of each role in the team – preferably having personally performed a number of those roles – developer, QA Engineer, program manager, UX designer, product manager, and so on….
  • Familiarity and curiosity of new technologies, technical market shifts, etc. For example exploring new AWS services, Docker, node.js and other new movements, even if there is no direct applicability to a current project so that you can ask the deeper questions on future projects and foster innovation in your team.
  • Fundamental understanding of the business, accounting, and budgeting. So much of your capability to execute comes straight from creative uses of the budget and making the most of what you have.  You don’t need an MBA, but a minor in finance or accounting is very helpful, and having a CFO that will teach you as much as possible about corporate finance is a Godsend.
  • Deep understanding of people, what motivates them, drives them and how to make them successful.  This is critical to building a mentoring / coaching culture where you can pass these skills down and scale the team. Very helpful here is an understanding of behavioral styles (ala Meyers Briggs / DISC, etc) and how to communicate and inspire each type of person.
  • Must be able to quickly assess the strengths and weakness across the team and particularly with the leadership so that you play to their strengths and give them support in the areas where they are weaker.
  • Be ready to make and be accountable for difficult decisions. You are going to have to make tough calls on people, priorities, technologies, strategies and more.  At times there will be no great choices, only painful ones and at the end of the day the worst thing you can do is make no choice.  (Nowadays they call it fail fast.  There are lots of cute terms for truths that have been around a long time.)
  • And perhaps number 1 – the ability to sell innovation and change to your team, to executives and to customers. People are generally change averse and whether it is driving a major new product architecture or whether it is helping someone digest the risk they perceive in a new product, the executive must be able to sell innovation and change before they are able to drive effective realization of that change through goals and objectives.