Conveying the state of an engineering organisation isn’t easy, and it’s even harder when you’re speaking to someone without a technical background, like a typical CEO. CTO and CEOs need a common language. Otherwise, CTOs will forever struggle to secure the necessary budget, explain technical bottlenecks, or even facilitate agreement about the state of a situation. The opacity of the engineering process can lead to frustration for executive stakeholders. Therefore, engineering leadership must counter this frustration with facts. As other business units have already learned, great reporting based on objective data is the secret to communicating and aligning with the rest of the C-Suite.
Engineers and Reporting
Reporting gets a bad rap in the engineering world. A generation of engineers, raised with Office Space’s TPS reports and scarred by misused performance metrics like time cards or Lines of Code, has come to see reporting as either pointless busywork or a smoke-and-mirrors excuse for management to do whatever it wants.
Effective reporting is the opposite of that. Instead of hobbling engineers or obscuring the state of play, it promotes transparency and alignment without interfering with their work. Departments like sales, marketing, HR and finance already rely on objective data to derive insights, develop action plans, and collaborate with executives and across departments. It’s time for CTOs to do the same.
What does great reporting look like?
Reporting creates the opportunity for shared, fact-based understanding rooted in quantitative and qualitative data. It ensures that every stakeholder comes to the table with the same information, enabling decisions that are based on data instead of feelings, gut instinct, or “vibes.”
Yet, for reporting to be successful, it must be more than just fact-based or objective: it must be clear, targeted, and grow in value over time. In an engineering context, great reporting is:
- Consistent – CTOs should track the same metrics in every report, enabling apples-to-apples comparisons. Shifting the focus to different metrics too frequently impedes your ability to learn and makes reporting seem arbitrary. With consistent data, you can spot patterns and track trends.
- Curated – Engineering reporting should focus on the metrics that are most relevant to your goals: if you try to track everything, you’ll learn nothing.
- Precise – CTOs must select the right units of measurement for the metrics they’re tracking. For instance, is it more meaningful to measure days, hours, or minutes if you’re tracking Time to First Review? Know your goal, know what constitutes progress, and choose your measurements accordingly.
- Regular – CTOs should establish a predictable cadence for reporting. This will help give trend lines a meaningful context.
- Contextualized – Data can’t be understood in a vacuum. Pairing internal performance data with industry benchmarks, past trends, or other relevant data will help you derive day-one value from your reporting.
- Automated – Ideally, the need to collect reporting data shouldn’t change how engineers work. The engineering intelligence required for great reporting can be found in the tools developers are already using, such as GitLab, Bitbucket, or Jira. Extracting, analyzing, and presenting that data shouldn’t be their problem.
- Transparent – Communicate with both the CEO and the engineering organisation about what you’re measuring and why. Make it clear that this data will be used for strategic understanding, decision-making, and problem-solving—not micromanagement or punishment.
Accurate reporting improves alignment for everyone
The CTO is responsible for improving communication and facilitating alignment, not just with the CEO but down throughout the entire engineering department. With great reporting, you can spot risks on the horizon, identify under-resourced priorities, or pinpoint failing processes.
You can also demonstrate when your team is exceeding delivery expectations, outperforming industry benchmarks, or writing really stellar code. Reporting should not only give the CEO visibility into your engineering organisation; it should make your engineers feel seen.
Undoubtedly, effective reporting cannot exist without great leadership. CTOs must work with their CEOs and their engineering teams to agree on which metrics matter, standardize how they will be defined and measured, and make plans to avoid over-optimization and microanalysis. Even then, while reporting might expose a problem—or demonstrate your team’s success—it’s still up to you to dig deeper to determine the reality behind the data and take any relevant next steps.
Great reporting gives you a firm foundation for productive CEO/CTO collaboration. Successful leaders use it to build a more comprehensive understanding of progress and performance without compromising culture.
To learn more about how engineering leaders can create meaningful reporting, please speak to a Code Climate Velocity specialist.
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