Being a remarkable leader of a tech company doesn't require having a technical background. In fact, the study shows that 87% of CEOs agree it's "more important now for technology leaders to understand business operations, strategy, and innovation than to have deep expertise in technology systems."
But this doesn't mean technical skills don't count for anything. In some cases, the lack of a founder's technical expertise can result in poor management and inadequate decisions. Let's look at the problems a non-technical leader usually faces and learn how to solve them effectively.
The pain points of a non-technical leader
Leading an IT company without a technical background is a pretty big challenge. Here are a few issues you'll probably encounter down the road.
Lack of confidence in engineering decisions
Making any engineering decisions will be a nightmare if you don't have enough experience working in tech. Choosing a technology stack or an online service to use will seem like solving a riddle. Even worse, you can never be sure that you've found the right answer. Will the system scale? Is it going to be easy to support and extend? Should I go with AWS or GCP? Beware: the lack of confidence in engineering decisions will haunt you day and night.
Inability to plan the deliverables
In our fast-changing world, setting the release deadlines is hard. But it's twice as hard for a person without previous tech team management experience. You may have trouble setting the release date right or estimating the amount of work if your team can't help you with that. All this leads to missed deadlines. Moreover, you risk not reaching your marketing and business goals.
Setting the price right
Since it's hard to make any estimates for a non-technical founder, it's also hard to understand the cost structure of developing service or feature. Too bad, so sad. You may be overpaying for the services you use, and you'll never even notice that. What if you could actually safe your money? Or pay the same price for better service and higher product quality? What if your developers lead you by the nose? The inability to set the price will result in endless doubts which can interfere with the working process.
Limited local talent pool
Have you already assembled a team for your project? Chances are, that will be problematic. The most common reason for that is the limited local talent pool. For instance, you have good chances of finding great developers in Washington, Wyoming, and California, where the best developers live. But hiring experienced tech professionals in Montana or West Virginia can be brutal. Don't forget that in some areas you'll have to compete with other tech companies for great software developers. How on Earth can a young startup outrun Apple or Google in the hiring race?
Spending too much time managing the engineering team
If you made a few mistakes hiring an engineering team, you might end up having a constant stream of problems working with them. For instance, you may be spending too much time managing the inexperienced developers, which is actually not part of your job at all.
Also, if you have no experience managing an engineering team you may have troubles with communication. And let's be honest, now, when most of us work remotely, you're bound to have those. Inadequate communication leads to bad engineering decisions and lots of reworking. Which all results in increased development costs.
Low team commitment and lack of motivation
Working with a founder who's inexperienced in tech can also be difficult for the development team. If you don't communicate with them properly, you'll have to deal with the lack of developers' commitment and motivation. According to research, programmers are highly demotivated when:
- requirements continuously change for no reason
- insufficient requirements provided
- not enough executive support in technology
- business dictates the technology design
- they have insufficient time for development and testing
- post-implementation reviews become a finger-pointing exercise
Unfortunately, a non-technical leader may be responsible for all of these problems.
Troubles aligning engineering with business goals
The lack of proper communication between product owners and the development team can also lead to not achieving the business goals. For instance, without clear guidance, your team may add some unnecessary features or fail to meet deadlines. Put simply, you risk not getting the product you wanted and never finishing anything on time.
9 things a non-technical founder should think about
It's always better to anticipate problems than to deal with them as you go. So if you want to be prepared for the issues mentioned above, just ask yourself the following questions.
1. Do you feel you're getting the most value out of your engineering investment?
Odds are you may be overpaying. Unfortunately, that often happens when you can't estimate your team's exact value. Too bad, a non-technical founder mostly has to rely on the developer's word and hope that their qualifications correspond to their rates.
2. Is your talent pool global?
Today, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, companies hire developers remotely. This trend will certainly stay even after the quarantine because there's not much point in seeking developers locally. The benefits of hiring a remote team are obvious:
- Saved costs. The developers' rates are lower in some countries. Take Eastern Europe, for instance. Hiring a development team in Ukraine, Poland, or Belarus will help you save money.
- Wide talent pool. When you hire a remote team of developers, you can choose any professionals you want. In other words, you're not limited by the local talent pool.
- Reduced risks. Due to the recent events, having a remote development team instead of the traditional one has become a necessity. Moreover, the global pandemic has shown that it's better to work with developers from different countries. Because while some locations have turned into the heart of the pandemic, others remain relatively safe. Put simply, by hiring in several countries, you can minimize the risks of not getting things done.
3. Is your team overengineering or doing premature optimizations?
Nu-uh, you better not be. Any premature optimizations significantly increase the development cost. Also, if you start optimizing your product early, you may overengineer it. When your business idea hasn't been validated, you can't be sure that you need optimization at all. No one guarantees you that those extra features you built won't become useless later.
4. Can your product handle scale and growth?
No, you don't need to optimize the product upfront, but you do have to think about its scalability. Choosing the wrong technology stack from the start can result in your service's inability to handle the growth. So if you want your product to be stable in the future, adopt the scalable architecture and technologies.
5. Does your team acknowledge the technical debt?
Unfortunately, the technical debt can't be avoided. It's a part of the software development process. Whenever you need to implement a new feature fast, your team will probably decide to take a shortcut. Instead of choosing the proper but time-consuming solution, they'll pick the easy and quick one.
All the shortcuts your team has ever taken will slowly pile up into the technical debt. But the thing is, your technical debt should be addressed. All the loans you took to implement new features have to be repaid. If not, your team will run into a lot of troubles like the increasing number of bugs and daunting feature implementation.
6. Are you ahead of your competitors?
To create a successful product, you need to think two steps ahead of your market competitors. Yes, you need better resources and an excellent development team. This also includes cutting expenses where possible, which means that you have to find qualified developers for a reasonable price to save money. For that matter, try outsourcing software development to a remote team of professionals.
7. Does your team have what it takes?
Are you sure you have strong players on your team? Did you check the developers' skills properly? Or did you hire these people because you needed to start the development immediately and didn't have any other options? The sad truth is, your current team may not be perfect. And you may need to recruit professional help to reinforce it.
8. Can your team deliver results on time?
The essential quality of a great engineering team is the ability to stick to the timelines. If your developers can't plan the releases and meet the deadlines, consider this a red flag for you: something has to be changed. Your team may lack the knowledge of how to establish the delivery process properly. In some cases, they may need a strong tech lead to guide them. Don't ever ignore the missed deadlines - they can cost you a lot.
9. Are you satisfied with engineering management?
Obviously, you shouldn't waste your time writing out sprints or planning feature releases in detail. But sometimes inexperienced founders end up doing all that. It's actually the job of an engineering team lead to manage the developers, and you have to pay attention to whether he copes with it smoothly, without stealing your precious time.
For a non-technical leader, guiding an IT company may be hard. But now that you know which risks to anticipate, your job will become that much easier. Don't forget to look through this list of 10 questions from time to time.
And if you need any professional help building a team or setting up the processes, ask Altigee. For non-technical founders, we provide a free consultation that includes an overview of your solution's architecture, team composition, and engineering processes.