Inspirational Leadership: Product Health as Culture and Strategy Synergy
Based on the interview with David Wallace,
CTO at Greenphire
Greenphire is transforming the healthcare and clinical trials industry by introducing FinTech and payment processing capabilities. The products they provide include ClinCard, which is facilitating the payment and reimbursement to subjects taking part in a clinical trial; ConneX, which is assisting with the travel of patients and their caregivers to the clinical trial site; and eClinicalGPS, which, in turn, automates the ability for sites to be paid faster.
David shared with me his outlook on ensuring product health, building relationships within a team, and what differentiates a CTO from an engineering practitioner.
CTO as visionary
David is sure that the main responsibility of a CTO is to outline the company’s technical strategy and architecture. A CTO monitors new opportunities in the industry and with technology, ranges them, and finds the most perspective and viable solutions to meet the company’s product strategy. On top of that, the role is about forming a team, developing strong bonds among individuals, and helping them to realize their potential. Unlike many other CTOs, David assumes that this role should not include any development or architecting responsibilities:
“Part of my initiative has been to build a management team and empower them to take more ownership and roles and responsibilities without me. That doesn’t mean I’m cutting the line and heading somewhere else. It just means a progression. Showing my management team that I have [confidence] in them and empowering them is a clear critical item for me.”
This approach develops the team’s autonomy, raises their confidence, and gives David more time to think over the company’s future strategic innovation and predict future challenges. In addition, empowered communication contributes to mutual understanding between product and engineering departments:
“If you create that collaboration across the teams, there is respect. There is understanding. And ultimately, it informs a larger data set for product to make recommendations in terms of roadmap prioritization.”
Also, David thinks Scrum Masters are very important for empowering communication and teamwork.
“Scrum Masters’ role goes beyond just running a meeting or making sure the fifteen-minute stand up happens every day; it’s more about being a coach. We ask them to come up with new ideas, push the team, and [get] them thinking a different way. I do ask a lot of them, and I think that is an extremely important role within our organization.”
David says it’s important to have regular interactions with everybody on the team as often as possible to make sure they are updated on the entire corporate enterprise. That can mean having a word near the coffee maker in the office or scheduling teambuilding activities:
“Catching with one of the engineers or team members allows [me to see] how they’re feeling or what’s going on with them. We try to do quarterly events with the entire IT organization where we do a barbecue at my house and go axe throwing. We do things as a team outside of work, so you have the opportunity to see your co-workers outside of work, see the personal side.”
Along with the company’s technical growth strategy, David works on his team’s personal growth as well as his own. He likes reading about business and gets together with other CTOs to hear different perspectives on similar challenges. Also, they have recently starting offering online courses to allow for more career pathing, in addition to conferences and books the teams share amongst themselves.
Product hygiene and health
Using terminology from health care, David suggests making sure that “product health” is continuously evaluated and inserted into the roadmap. But what does product health really mean?
The determinant of product health is scalability. In order to keep the product healthy, one should introduce stack upgrades, optimize the budget, and make sure that the product continues to work the way clients expect it to.
“We have to spend a significant portion — meaning greater than 20 percent — of our innovation time making sure we’re doing all the right things to support the product health.”
This involves, for instance, ensuring that everything is done due to certifications whether its ISO, PCI, or SOC2. Another core point is technical debt elimination. Stopping development for six, nine, or twelve months is a hard pill to swallow for any business, David says, but he asks himself, what is the cost of not doing it? How can one minimize the impact of doing these large re-architectural projects? Understanding the cost and the benefits is key not only for efficient tech debt elimination but also for optimizing the budget:
“Every engineer wants to move to the newest and greatest, but balancing what we need to do with what we want to do [for clients] is crucial.”
The automated testing and continuous integration and deployments are where David sees the biggest benefit to budgetary items. Overall, removing manual processes and streamlining integration and deployments brings a lot of value to FinTech companies. Greenphire created a smoke test suite to run small changes. Their focus is to create full end-to-end automated testing and allow QAs to be more exploratory rather than only running manual tests. Also, microservices strategy allows them to do deployments at any time, whereas APIs reduce the need for customization.
“Anything we build is not custom to any particular customer. Anything we build from an API standpoint is absolutely reusable for any of our customers that choose to use it.”
Security is another vital part of product health and hygiene. To ensure security, David finds it useful to do external due diligence by bringing in experts to assist his team.
“It isn’t only best practices but continuously doing those things week in and week out to ensure that our application can be as secure as possible.”
What inspires inspirational leaders
David says that he loves and enjoys being a part of something that’s growing and adding value to the lives of so many different people. Along with that, being a part and seeing the growth of so many of members of his team is inspiring.
“Nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing a member of my team [give] a presentation of what they’ve been able to accomplish over the last two months. Or building a new feature or seeing them grow or get promoted or having new opportunities. I absolutely love seeing that career development of people on my time.”
Another thing that motivates David is learning:
“I learn every single day. I learn about different things, different techniques, different ways to handle a problem. Learning from the people around me [who are] pushing me to grow as well as a leader is something I absolutely do every day and continue to enjoy.”
Believe it or not, David gets motivated by challenges. Every growing company has specific challenges, and Greenphire’s challenges are the need for scope and estimation of ROI process improvement, dealing with changing priorities, issues coming from the customers, and expanding the company’s product line.
“Our job is to be able to handle challenges in the most educated way possible. Learn about our different options and make the best decision for the organization pushing forward. What makes it fun makes it hard. That’s why we do it.”