Organizing a Digital Technology Department in a Media Company By Functional Areas

This article presents a system to organize your digital technology department in a media company. It is written for a CTO, CIO or EVP Technology looking for suggestions on organizing or reorganizing your Digital (Web, Mobile) technology department. It is best suited for you if your organization has the following characteristics:

  • You manage all aspects of technology for a major digital brand or for a large company with 3 or more Web sites.
  • You lead a technology department of between 50 to 250 staff.
  • Internal corporate IT functions such as desktop support, telecommunications services and internal business systems are beyond the scope of this article.
Click on the diagram above to view it as a zooming presentation

The following are seven areas that the CTO heading up such a technology department in a media company is typically responsible for.

Digital Technology Department in a Media Company – By Functional Areas

Each of the seven areas contains the following functions.

In a company, the above may map to the following organizational structure.

CTO / EVP Technology’s Organization

  • Director of Technology Administration & Management (Chief of Staff to CTO)
    • Administrative Staff
  • VP of PMO
    • Director of Program & Project Management
      • Project Managers
    • Director of Technology Budgets (has dotted line of reporting into Finance department)
  • VP of Technology, Client Satisfaction & Advocacy
    • 24×7 Support Staff
    • Technology/Developer Advocate(s)
  • Director of Technology & Business Analysis
    • Technology Analysts team
    • Business Intelligence, Research & Analysis Team
  • VP of Quality
    • Teams of Testers
    • Team of Test Automation Engineers
    • Software Release & Shipping Team
  • VP of Product Engineering
    • Teams for each technology product
  • VP of Software Engineering
    • Director of DevOps (has dotted line of reporting into VP of Systems & Infrastructure)
    • R&D Team
    • SEO Team
    • Web Client Technologies Team
    • Mobile Technologies Team
    • Builds & Configuration Management Team
  • VP of Systems & Infrastructure
    • Security & Privacy Protection Team
    • Systems & Applications Administration Teams
    • DBA Team
    • Infrastructure Management Team

In the above organization, each person directly reports into their functional area. In a smaller organization, the VP roles above may be director roles.

Program/Project Teams: Dotted-Line Reporting By Programs & Projects

At any given time, a company has a number of programs and projects in progress that are best suited by a dedicated team. In this system, staff is assigned to the program or project. The assignment of a person to a project  is a dotted line valid for the duration of the project, not a direct line of reporting to the head of the project.

An example of this is a Scrum team.1

The benefits of this approach include: By directly reporting to a manager, director or VP in their discipline, the employee benefits from the learning, coaching and exchange of knowledge with others in the same discipline. That gives the employee a good feeling of belonging with others that share a passion for that area of work.  By being part of a program or project team, the employee enjoys the sense of co-ownership of a project or product.

During and on completion of the project, the project head gives feedback to the direct supervisor of the employee, which the supervisor uses to coach, help and provide support to the employee both in the current project and for future projects.

Below is an alternate illustration showing teams as “vertical” and “horizontal”.

vertical-and-horizontal-teams

  1.  More articles related to Scrum teams. []

Management & Technical Career Growth Tracks

Described here is one way to enable technologists to grow their careers in your organization while still allowing them to focus on the type of work they are best at and enjoy most.

The typical management career growth path does not suit some technical people. These information workers need to grow in their careers (gain greater compensation, responsibilities and influence) without having to become managers of other people. A good way to achieve that goal is to create a technical career growth track in your organization.

The following diagram and table illustrate management positions alongside technical positions of similar levels.

Click on the diagram above to view it as a zooming presentation.



This system isn’t meant to be rigid. It is designed to find a good balance with most organizations. That balance, i.e. how many “levels of authority” there are will differ across organizations. The focus of this article is to provide a technical track as an alternative to management tracks, whether there are 3 levels or 13. There are pros and cons of having fewer “bands” or ranks. (As a side note, some organizations like the military1 require lots of ranks.) Ranks need not signify a strict hierarchy where one can only go from one rank to the one immediately above. The ranks could simply be used as “salary bands” and the levels of “hierarchy of authority” could be fewer.

In this model, for example, an architect role is at the same compensation and influence level as a manager role, assuming that the particular manager and architect being compared add similar value to the company. To accommodate more ranks, a senior architect would be at the same level as a senior manager.

If the organization prefers consistent titles for levels regardless of track, the system could name them like this: vice president & fellow, senior director & architect, etc. In the case of a fellow who is at an SVP level, they could be named SVP & distinguished fellow.

Here is a definition of the fellow role from WikiPedia:2

Large corporations in research and development-intensive industries3 appoint a small number of senior scientists and engineers as Fellows. Fellow is the most senior rank or title one can achieve on a technical career, though some fellows also hold business titles such as vice president or chief technology officer.

Such a technical career growth plan brings many benefits to your organization.

  • It helps retain good technologists who want to grow in their careers, but want to do keep doing the type of work they are best at and enjoy doing: technical work.
  • It avoids brilliant technical people from being “pushed” (by themselves or their supervisors trying to “reward” them) into people-management responsibilities.
  • It reduces situations of having too many people-managers but not enough people-management positions over time as people get promoted.

Care should be taken to recognize that some technical people do enjoy making the transition to people-management roles and the presence such a technical track should not discourage them. Having an alternate career growth track option is about presenting employees with more than one choice.

Similar system are also used to enable non-managerial career paths at editorial and design departments at newspapers, magazines and other newsrooms.

Related Articles on Other Sites

Some updates to this article are published at http://www.rajiv.com/blog/2012/12/17/tech-career-tracks-v2/

(Thanks to Brian MurphyBobby Chowdhury, and Janet Kasdan for their contributions to this system.)

(Updated: 2012-Dec-17)

  1. US Military Ranks []
  2. Definition of Fellow at WikiPedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fellow and Wikitionary http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/fellow []
  3. IBM or Sun Microsystems in information technology, and Boston Scientific in Medical Devices for example []

Interviewing By Putting To Work

I’ve found this to be an effective way of evaluating potential hires compared to just interviewing in a question/answer format: Put them to work for a few hours (or even days/weeks/months as contractors) and see how well they perform.

Having someone do the job as a short-term temporary contractor before hiring them is one of my favorite ways of testing them for the job. However, sometimes this isn’t practical. In those cases, having the candidate work on a short test assignment for a few hours can be very telling.

For example, when interviewing a software programmer, set them up on a computer and give them a programming assignment representative of the type of work they would do on the job. Give them reasonable freedom as you’d give an actual employee. If they need to research references / solutions on the Web, let them. If they want to call a friend for consulting help, that’s fine. If they ask for your or their “coworkers” for help within reason, that’s okay too.

Hiring a journalist? Give them a reporting, writing, and/or editing assignment. Hiring a web site producer? Have them build a mini-web site or edit a copy of an existing site. Hiring a designer, have them design a logo for a business or product. (This will help determine how well they can relate their design skills to the business aspects.)

While this is a simulation, the more realistic you can make it, the better.

For information worker type jobs, coming up with a realistic assignment is easier than one for a management or executive leadership position candidate. Another challenge with this is that a manager and leader’s job requires significantly more interaction with others. That means this simulation will consume a fair amount of your and your team’s time. However, remember that manager and executive leaders are very important hires, so the time spent in finding the best possible hire is totally worth it.

Some factors to consider in your evaluation. How resourceful is the person? Do they communicate with the customers? How do they interact with the customers? Do they get the job done? Do they seek help beyond their own resources? Do they become a drain on others’ productivity? How is the quality of their work? What’s their balance of being a team player and contributing individually? How is their planning? How is their presentation? Do they document their solution? How well do they explain their solution?

I admit this is too time consuming to do for everyone who applies for the job. You do need to filter the list down to between three to five candidates for this working interview. There are a couple of ways you can do this. For contract-to-potentially-hire positions, you can rely on a trusted vendor to do the filtering for you according to your guidelines. For others, you do need to review their resumes, see who has recommended them, do phone interviews and give them tests. Computerized tests are a good way to save you and your team some time during the initial screening, provided you present the test in a way that is not demeaning to the candidate. The time/money invested in setting up an automated online test is worth it. The test needs to be respectfully presented as a part of the standard process and should not feel like an entrance exam or impersonal screening.

So next time you have a position to fill, consider using a working-interview.