Value-driven Partnerships and Engineer Empowerment: Interview with CJ Montano | Forte Group

Value-driven Partnerships and Engineer Empowerment : Interview with CJ Montano, Chief Technology Officer

We had the pleasure of sitting down with CJ, CTO at Forte Group, who is passionate about cultural alignment and empowering engineers. CJ has worked in the product and service industry over his 23-year career.  Familiar with both the buy and sell side of IT services, he has witnessed firsthand how software development partners often overpromise and underdeliver. The pattern was so common that software development partners earned a well-accepted moniker as a “necessary evil” within the software industry.  The high ratio of developer demand to overall capacity supported the pattern for decades.

With the introduction of his own Software Delivery firm, along with the ongoing agile movement at the time, CJ set out on a mission to change that moniker of “necessary evil” to one of “value, delivered predictably, with quality”  

This interview explores CJ’s ideas on creating a value-based partnership between clients and service providers.

Q: Can you tell us more about your passion for value-driven partnerships?

CJ: Absolutely. I love the idea of changing the image of the service industry from a necessary evil to a value-based partnership. This approach is based on the idea that consultants can sometimes be too focused on selling their own services, and billing time, rather than truly understanding and addressing the needs of the client. 

By starting with a clear understanding of the business problem, and precisely defining what and why a problem exists, software development partners can offer higher value than just their time and talents. It’s the difference between being responsible for an output, and owning an outcome.

It’s something that I’ve been working towards since founding Agile Unicorn, which was later acquired by Forte Group. The service industry’s problem is that while many say they can do it, very few deliver high-value outcomes. That’s why we’re different; we’re obsessively committed to being value-driven by aligning our value proposition, our internal operations, and our service models with what will make our clients successful.

In the 20 years of C.J.’s professional career, he has often found himself sitting in between the CEO and a much larger team—the IT tech or software engineering team—trying to solve problems caused by both sides not knowing how to work together. Here’s how CJ outlined one of the success stories he was a part of, helping a company to change corporate culture to fail fast, fail safe, and bring IT and business closer together:

Q: How do you ensure alignment with your clients?

CJ: It starts with being accountable and having a stake in our client’s success; what Warren Buffet once referred to as “skin in the game.” We organize all of our operations around assuring our client’s success.

One such way we align value is by offering a pricing model that allows our clients to more closely pay for what they receive (actual delivered value) vs what they are promised (time & talent).  We call it “pay per sprint” and it is our commitment to delivering value in each sprint based on a collaborative planning process with buy-in from both the client and Forte.

Of course, there are many other ways we align with clients, but the most important way is having a value mindset.  Once you have that mindset, everything else changes for the better.  

Q: How does engineer empowerment play into value-driven partnerships?

CJ: We are an organization for engineers by engineers and see it essential to establish engineers’ voice within our organization, particularly towards the betterment of our client engagements.

I often say that “engineers are people too” because the market tends to commoditize engineers and reduce them to a single dimension; generators of code or some simple output that is out of context and not necessarily tied to the value proposition of the product they are creating.

The people in an organization who understand this problem the best – and are directly impacted by it – are the engineers.  So we ask our engineers how to solve these problems and then trust and support them in their journey.  It not only creates an ownership mentality, we find that it gives purpose to our engineers who realize they are contributing to something useful.

Q: How does engineer empowerment benefit your organization?

CJ: By spotlighting our engineers’ voices, we show how deeply aligned everyone is within our company culture. Everyone plays an essential role in achieving success together, from entry-level employees to senior staff members. This is why establishing and amplifying the voice of engineers in any organization is crucial. It helps showcase their technical expertise and promotes alignment with organizational goals.

There are various means for organizations to establish the voice of engineers. These include practice guilds, public-facing platforms, speaking engagements, and spotlighting engineers.

Guilds in particular provide a platform for junior-level engineers to speak up about their ideas in a safe and learning style environment. That is not to say that junior engineers don’t add value though, quite the opposite!  We find that junior engineers are often more in touch with modern ways of working and developing software and their contribution to the guild assures balance between historically proven patterns in engineering with more innovative techniques under experimentation.

In short, raising the voice of engineers, of all levels, benefits everyone; including our clients.

Watch full "Dear CEO: failing can be good" presentation by CJ

A risk-averse, play-it-safe mindset can be at odds with the rapid pace of modern business. But how can companies “fail fast” to accelerate and evolve their software delivery?

Q: In your opinion, what is the most exciting aspect of establishing the voice of engineering in an organization?

CJ: This one is simple to answer.  I love watching the “aha” moment, the proverbial “lightbulb going off” in our engineers heads.  

As a seasoned leader, I know that one small idea, concept, or clarity of vision can generate an entire lineage of new ideas and new ways of thinking.  I experience real joy watching this growth when an engineer becomes inspired to make a difference in their craft, in a product, or in some greater context.  It is the “passing of the baton” to the next generation of innovators who will undoubtedly influence our world.

Q: Thank you for taking a few minutes to share your thoughts. Lastly, is there a secret recipe for a successful partnership with a client?

CJ: I’ve spent the last 10-15 years working in the service industry, teaching and setting up teams, engagements and departments that focus on a strong partnership between business and technology. 

I cannot emphasize enough how crucial it is to listen to your clients, deeply understand their business problem, and then “meet them where they are.”  It is why we offer a spectrum of service models in both product and platform engineering.  This, coupled with an Engagement Architect, allows us to apply the right way to engage and be agile as our client’s needs change over time.

Join CJ at a panel discussion on how CTOs balance and prioritize NFRs into their roadmaps

Thursday, March 30 | 10:00 – 11:00 AM

CJ Montano

by CJ Montano

CJ is a CTO at Forte Group. He is an immersive leader and quality craftsman who works with IT enterprise teams to overcome large-scale engineering complexities and achieve constant value.

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