For many CTOs, communicating with the CEO (or any member of the executive team) can be an unending source of frustration. Though I’m a CEO today, I’ve also been a CTO, and I’ve seen firsthand the challenges that brings. It’s not easy to convey a complete picture of the state of an engineering organization to a technical leader who isn’t involved in the team’s day-to-day, and it’s even harder when you’re speaking to someone without a technical background. You may be working towards the same goal, but if you’re not aligned on how to get there or how things are going, you’ll face unnecessary challenges at every turn.
Unless you know the secret — the key to enhancing alignment with executive stakeholders, including the CEO — clear, objective reporting.
Reporting isn’t just for your boss
CTOs often face difficulties securing budget for critical initiatives, facilitating agreement on the state of a situation, explaining that engineering isn’t always the bottleneck, and more. These may seem like distinct challenges, but in reality they share a common foundation — they’re all difficulties rooted in issues of communication and alignment.
A key responsibility of executive leadership is improving communication and facilitating alignment. No matter how well your team performs, no matter how stellar your software, your department’s success will likely be limited if you can’t get stakeholders on the same page. In order to promote alignment, you’ll need to leverage one of the most underappreciated, oft-maligned tools at your disposal: reporting.
Though it has a bad reputation — Office Space’s TPS reports always come to mind — reporting has a lot to offer. Not timecards, not compulsory bureaucratic tracking, but great reporting (more on what that means in a moment), can offer enormous benefit to you and your team. Done well, reporting allows you to frame the conversations you need to have, and inform the decisions that need to be made.
Every other department has already learned this lesson. Sales, Marketing, HR, and Finance are all reporting on objective data, using it to advocate for their departments and drive critical discussions with the rest of the executive team. It’s time for engineering leaders to do the same.
What is great reporting?
In this context, reporting is the process of gathering and sharing quantitative and qualitative information in order to create the opportunity for shared, fact-based understanding. It ensures that everyone comes to the table with the same data, and that they’re operating on the basis of facts, not feelings. Understanding occurs when that data is contextualized and internalized, and can be used to drive conversations and decisions.
Great reporting goes above and beyond the requirements of that definition. It involves:
- Consistent data — Tracking the same metrics in every report makes it possible to track trends and surface patterns.
- Curated data — Sticking to the most relevant data makes reporting more useful; too much information can be just as useless as none at all.
- Predictable intervals — Reporting on a regular cadence helps establish and strengthen understanding.
- Appropriate context — Sharing additional information — for instance, pairing data with industry benchmarks, past trends, or other relevant metrics — can help tell a more complete story.
- Necessary precision — Using the most logical unit of measurement is important; if you measure something in hours instead of minutes or days, it can be a distraction unless the reason for that interval is clear.
- Correct elevation — Choosing data with the right level of granularity can make it easier for your report’s recipient to understand.
Reporting establishes a shared foundation for having critical conversations and making key decisions, but it’s just a starting point. Your report might show your CEO that things are going well, or that a major initiative is off-track, but it can’t explain why, nor can it solve problems. Still, when done well, reporting can be the basis for productive collaboration, and can help you drive success in your organization.
To find out how to leverage clear, objective reporting to meet your organizational goals, speak to one of our product specialists.
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