CEOs and Software Teams in a Dysfunctional Relationship? Maybe it’s Your Software Metrics

In many companies, the relationship between software development leaders and the C-suite is broken. Here are a couple data points: In a recent Forrester survey, 85% of software leaders said they lack the executive support they need to succeed.1

If that seems bad, consider that the same study found that only 5% of CxOs recognize that executive support is a challenge for software leaders. The two perspectives could not be more at odds.

It would be easy to look at those data points and blame the C-suite for being out of touch, arrogant, or aloof. But I’d argue that, as in most dysfunctional relationships, both parties shoulder their share of responsibility.

Most of us are familiar with the phrase, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”—one of the maxims referenced in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People guides from Stephen R. Covey. The two statistics referenced above suggest that neither side understands where the other is coming from.

In previous posts, I have written about the “madness” of software metrics currently and offered a prescription for ending the myopia caused by these metrics. These posts referenced a separate Forrester piece, which stated that those software metrics “confound conventional management techniques.”2

Is it possible that there is a connection between this software metric madness and the dysfunctional relationship between some CEOs and software leaders? I would say there is.

Most would agree that communication is a key foundation of healthy relationships, and this is true for both personal and business relationships. Metrics are one of the ways we communicate in a business environment. Metrics help us communicate the success, or lack thereof, of an initiative. Metrics help leaders identify issues and make informed decisions.

If two parties are tracking and communicating different metrics, it’s like they are talking different languages.

An analogy would be interviewing with a prospective employer. As the interviewee, you would be interested in understanding the salary for the position—a value-based metric. But if the employer was only telling you that you would get paid every week (a time-based metric), you would understandably be frustrated.

Development teams tend to track and report on software metrics related to speed and quality. Business leaders care about metrics related to business performance—revenue growth, customer acquisition, profit margins, and so on.

Both categories of metrics are important and necessary to track, but there needs to be a translation layer in between. It’s important to track production defects, for example, but if software leaders are going to do their part to help mend the relationship, it’s important to communicate the correlation to the business metrics that CxOs value: “We reduced production defects by X%, which resulted in a Y% increase in customer retention,” to complete the example.

BizOps is a concept that is gaining traction in the industry because it promises to bridge the gap between technology leaders (and their software metrics) and business leaders. BizOps uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to connect and correlate data across the organization, essentially providing that translation layer—not just between technology and business metrics, but also across metrics in different software disciplines. In this way, BizOps can help unify dev and ops, for example.
Read more about why BizOps is becoming important in this blog by Kieran Taylor.

1. A Forrester Consulting Thought Leadership Paper Commissioned By Broadcom, “To Drive Great Business Results With Software, Close The CEO-CIO Gap,” December 2019, URL: https://www.broadcom.com/industry-analyst-report/forrester-ceo-cio-tlp

2. Forrester Research, Inc., “CEOs: Foster The Software Teams And Talents Your Firm Needs,” February 21, 2019