A CTO’s List of New Year’s Resolutions

December 30, 2009

Dilbert.com

There are many ways for Chief Technology Officers to be undone.   Appropriately enough  — in light of  Friday’s  college football bowl fest —  being an effective CTO is  like being a college football coach.  You don’t actually do the blocking and tackling yourself, but you’ll fail if the fundamentals are not done right —  even if your game plan is perfectly constructed.  I will have more to say in an upcoming  post about game plans, but today I want  to recognize the arrival of the  New Year with a short note about the fundamentals.

George Heilmeier, former DARPA Director, Bellcore CEO, and the inspiration for my” Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” series[1][2][3] was a mentor to me and to many other  technology leaders .  One day I asked him for a bit of career advice, and he hauled out a Heilmeier list — twelve  rules for CTO’s to follow if they have any hope of navigating the many dangers of the colliding worlds of innovation and execution.  I quickly found out that, true to form,  George had reduced best practices to a few rules of the road because dozens of others had asked for the same advice.  They are fascinating and valuable bits of advice, and they range in scope from broad business fundamentals to technology and culture.   I haven’t come across anyone who thinks that they are not important lessons — not to tuck away for future use, but to internalize and use as a platform for technology management in any setting.  It was December , so I turned George’s list into New Year’s resolutions.

  1. For each “client” establish/conceive a list of technologies and initiatives that drive his business and a list of technologies and initiatives that could change his business.
  2. Use the Catechism to get people to focus on the real “care-abouts” when making investment decisions and establishing priorities.
  3. Establish the physical, economic, and manufacturing limits of the technologies and capabilities that drive the business today.
  4. Establish a good working relationship with your peers
  5. Establish what [insert name(s) of  your CEO and Chairman] real priorities are.
  6. Establish the metrics for success in their eyes.
  7. Don’t shy away from doing some near term problem solving.  It builds credibility and respect.
  8. Never have your peers or clients come to your office for meetings with you.  Go to theirs.
  9. Any display of arrogance will cost you. Don’t do it.
  10. Compile a list of “innovations yet to be made”
  11. Make sure that each program or initiative is output oriented not activity oriented.
  12. Learn the [insert your company name here] culture.  It is unique.

Have a happy and safe New Year, and, by all means, don’t get caught when worlds collide.


[1] https://richde.wordpress.com/2009/09/22/guess-whos-coming-to-dinner/

[2] http://wwc.demillo.com/2009/10/11/guess-whos-coming-to-dinner-part-2/

[3] http://wwc.demillo.com/2009/10/19/guess-whos-coming-to-dinner-part-3/

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