Sophie Davies-Patrick, Chief Technology Officer, MPB, has worked at American Express and Clearleft Ltd and used to play the bassoon. At our CTO Craft Conference, she’ll be part of the panel discussion: Let’s Get Strategic! Stop Reacting, Start Leading. She discusses her role as CTO, adapting company culture during COVID and training for inclusivity.
Hi Sophie, welcome to the CTO Craft Spotlight Q & A. You’re a day 1-panel speaker at the CTO Craft Con and the Chief Technology Officer, MPB. Can you give us a teaser about what you might share with our audience at the conference?
I was lucky enough to take a role as MPB’s first CTO right at the start of our scale-up phase. The technology team was functioning well for its size but was not equipped to scale.
I took an approach influenced by Jon Smart, basing my strategy on his “Better, Sooner, Safer, Happier” thinking, which had strongly influenced my time at American Express. Setting out where we were heading, and taking account of the pain points that team members were experiencing, meant we could more easily weather the challenges of scaling.
The conference theme is The Strategic CTO. What methods do you use to ensure that your team’s strategy is aligned with your company’s mission and values?
This was a really interesting problem space. I joined MPB the week the UK Covid lockdown started. The company had no tradition of remote working or written record-keeping, which meant that all culture was implicit. That’s probably the correct approach when everyone sees the CEO in the corridor every day, but it meant that a lot of change needed to happen in order for us to quickly transition to fully remote.
As soon as we could, we workshopped and published the Product & Engineering team values, which would help us stay true during our scale-up. Subsequently, a similar approach has been taken across MPB.
As a leader, what approaches do you use to create a culture of experimentation and innovation within your team?
We are big believers in a culture of continuous improvement. So many problems we are solving every day in technology are novel. In an ambitious hyper-growth company such as MPB, it is also really important to make quick decisions, often with incomplete information.
Knowing that we’ll regularly Inspect & Adapt, I think gives people the freedom to move forward with confidence. To encourage innovation, we have bi-weekly Friday afternoon R&D where team members have space to invest in their professional development and try out new ideas for our platform.
How do you prioritise and balance competing business objectives and stakeholder needs?
I always encourage my team to look at this through the lens of creating business value. I wish we could be quantitative about this, but we can’t always efficiently do that, so it is about clearly articulating the risks and benefits of competing demands. Having company-wide OKRs and a shared business roadmap has really helped us cut through the noise.
And finally, I feel very lucky that the Exec team at MPB has no politics – we have robust discussions, but we really do respect each other’s opinions and work hard to align.
How do you approach creating a strategy that accounts for external factors beyond your team’s control?
It’s good to stay aware of the wider industry and I’m so glad that in-person events are happening again, I find them so inspiring!
I would say that taking a “Now, Next, Later” approach to backlogs – whether they’re product features we are building for our customers, tech investment we are making in our platform, or process improvement internally – is a great way to see where you are going but also stay agile about the future. We also try to limit Work In Progress so we can focus and work efficiently, starting discovery as close to delivery as possible.
Changing the subject completely, please tell us an interesting fact we don’t know about you.
I used to play the bassoon when I was at school and reached Grade 8.
Can you tell us more about what you do in your role at MPB?
As Chief Technology Officer, my primary role is to lead the software development of MPB’s bespoke platform. I set the vision and strategy for how we can best use technology to drive business growth and have a laser focus on delivering value in the most efficient way possible.
I partner closely with MPB’s Chief Product Officer to ensure our combined Product & Engineering team is fully aligned and coherent. I’m also responsible for the IT team, who look after hardware for our teams and premises.
As a woman in tech, how do we ensure that underrepresented individuals who haven’t had the same opportunities as peers are given fair and equal access to new roles and opportunities in tech?
I think a lot about this. I do believe our industry is really inclusive in culture, so it’s a great place for women to work. But you are right to pinpoint opportunities and I feel companies can always do more to invest in training.
For example, at MPB, we host and coach at Codebar, a charity that operates regular free programming workshops for minority groups.
Finally, can you recommend a book or a podcast that every technology leader should read or listen to either in the space of strategy, development or leadership in general?
I have also been supported by Jon Smart’s Sooner Safer Happier book – I dip in during challenging times and it helps me find a way through.
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