How to ensure a smooth transition as a new CTO

Starting a CTO role can be a daunting prospect, especially if you are completely new to the company. There are plenty of plates to spin, people to meet, and ways of working to get used to, so it’s crucial that you’re on top of your game from the start.

In effect, those first few months on the job are all about learning as much as possible in a short space of time. This learning process must encompass all elements of the business, including the company itself, its culture, and your colleagues. Below, we’ve outlined six key areas new CTOs can focus on to make their transition to the role as smooth as possible.

meet your ancestor

If possible, a new CTO should interview their predecessor. Most CTO-led programs are tied to long-term goals with relatively long implementation cycles, so getting a holistic view early on is invaluable.

The predecessor is likely to provide a unique insight that is left out of the other documentation a new CTO typically receives. Try to get introduced to the other department leaders, executives, and their direct reports. Getting your stamp of approval will make your transition that much easier.

learn the culture

This requires asking lots of questions and listening carefully to people throughout the company. After all, success as a CTO depends on being able to understand how the company operates and adapt your approach to integrate with it, rather than implementing sudden and radical changes in working methods that may be unwelcome by staff.

Studying the McKinsey 7S framework and using it as the foundation for your culture learning approach is a good idea, as it will help you find your fit and learn how to better communicate across the organization.

Conduct a high-level assessment of current IT capabilities and commitments

There won’t be enough time to delve into the weeds given the demanding and fast-paced nature of the CTO role, but being too granular isn’t really your focus anyway. You need to gain an understanding of your assets, how things are managed, and the deployment and maintenance cycles.

The use of ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) methodologies can be useful in this area, as they will help you conduct your assessments in a strategic way that takes into account the health of the company as a whole.

Look for quick profits in your first 90 days

Small victories in the early days of your role will go a long way in creating positive energy in your team and building harmony among colleagues. These wins also help create critical momentum that will take you and your team to new levels of long-term success.

Build your initiatives for the first year

While quick wins are key, you should also be aware of asking for too much money or too many resources in the early days. Most organizations have an indefinite appetite for change, but when you push too hard, you’ll know right away when you’ve exceeded that appetite. Be ambitious, but also sensible.

Review existing agreements

Be sure to review all of your third-party vendor agreements, along with MSAs (Master Service Agreements) and SLAs (Service Level Agreements). In the post-pandemic world, much of what you are responsible for will not live within your ecosystem, so gaining full visibility is essential.

You need to know what expectations have been set with your suppliers, keeping in mind that any non-compliance they experience is your non-compliance as well.

hit the ground running

The CTO role is challenging, but with the right preparation, there’s a good chance you can get off to a positive and productive start. The key is to learn as much as possible about how your business operates in those early days, weeks, and months, so you can show ambition while setting realistic goals for the business. Achieve a smooth transition and you will lay the foundation for many successful years on the job.

image credit: Uuganbayar.B/

Lukasz Koczwara, Vice President of Engineering at STX Next and Patrick Kelley, Founder and CEO of Critical Path Security. STX Next is the largest software house in Europe specialized in designing and creating digital solutions in the Python programming language.

To download the STX Next New CTO Handbook, click here.

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