First Who… Then What

One of the first things I’ve been occupied with on the new job is interview candidates for software development openings we have. In recent years, I’ve been drawn more and more to get involved in the hiring process. I believe there is no more critical, leveraged action you can take toward making a software company successful than finding and hiring the right people. Having the right people is more important than programming language, platform, or methodology. The best people will overcome poor technology choices. The wrong people will eventually fail no matter what technological advantages they have.

In Good to Great, Jim Collins lays out a principle he calls “First who… then what.”

Executives who ignited transformations from good to great did not first figure out where to drive the bus and then get people to take it there. No, they first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it. They said, in essence, “Look, I don’t really know where we should take this bus. But I know this much: If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great.”

To a large extent, I think it is the same way with software. Assemble a great team, then decide what to create. In the world of commercial software, it rarely works quite that way. There is almost always a product in mind before the team is assembled. So, it’s not feasible to get the right team, then decide what to build, but it is realistic to get the right team in place, then decide how to build it. The how is always what separates good software from bad anyway.

As I’ve been immersed back into the hiring mindset, I continue to be struck by how many people who make their living developing software are so weakly grounded in the fundamentals. More on that later…

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