Brendan McEnroe – Creating engineering excellence through a growth mindset
Brendan McEnroe is an incredibly busy guy. He’s currently got his finger in three major pies – he’s the founder of DigitalTui, a consultancy service, co-founder of software development firm Block Zero, and CTO of Trade Window, a blockchain company listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange. And that’s when he is not working on his music as an electronic artist.
Brendan has been in the industry for over 30 years, starting in support development and working through to architecture and consultancy across a number of different technologies and sectors.
The self-confessed technologist is also a firm believer in the Agile philosophy, which aligns with our values at the Agile CTO podcast. So, it comes as no surprise that when Brendan showed interest in being a guest on our podcast, we jumped at the chance.
Here is our round-up on the fascinating conversation we had with Brendan on all things business and technology-related.
Taking the plunge
When Brendan moved to New Zealand, it was all about embracing new opportunities and doing something different with his life (and Australia has too many spiders!). He had never been to New Zealand before but thought, ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’
Brendan conducts business in a similar fashion, although certainly not as cavalier as it seems. He considers himself a risk-taker, which can be attributed to his career success. “I’ve seen and been attracted to new opportunities throughout my career,” Brendan says. “There’s always been little things and start-ups I’ve latched on to. Not everything goes somewhere, but you’ve got to keep trying.”
“Coming to New Zealand and joining Trade Window was a transition, especially since I had a nice, safe role back home. But it was new and exciting, and that’s what’s attractive to me.”
Passion for the process
Brendan really enjoys the Agile space, right from the early days of DSDM. As it continues to grow and get adopted, he has really seen the value in it. With the Agile philosophy in mind, Brendan has built a team dedicated to excellence.
“It’s about giving the team a little bit more responsibility,” he says. “This allows them to grow in their role without having to become a manager. People get promoted into management and give up the skills they are really good at. By taking the Agile approach along with embracing some concepts of the Spotify model, I’m taking away the challenges of being a manager and, instead, giving my team an opportunity to lead within a role that fits their skill level.”
The Spotify model is an Agile approach used by Spotify and other organisations. This people-driven model emphasises the importance of culture and network through accountability, quality, and open communication. This, in turn, increases innovation and productivity. Brendan adds, “Instead of standards being mandated from the top, we encourage the engineering teams to create their own standards. It’s about creating engineers that have a passion for what they do. This is what I call engineering excellence.”
Want vs. need
Brendan emphasises the importance of turning a want into a need. “Many clients or customers believe they want something, but once you really delve into it, you can start to understand that it’s really a need. It’s about taking them on a journey to show them what they need. And, in this way, you win their hearts and minds.”
He also advises that this concept can create cross-functional teams within a business by encouraging a pull rather than push model. “We’ve put some things in place around encouraging lean canvas to get the team familiar with some of the value they can bring. Once we’ve got some commitment around that, we can initiate projects and start seeing that the outcome works. Opportunities can come from the grassroots level, so anybody can submit a lean canvas into the process. And, with every step, they gain more confidence in the process and themselves.”
Progression over stagnation
The issue of retention and growth is not lost on Brendan. Be firmly believes that businesses need to offer staff opportunities for development to retain them. “It’s not just about the money,” he warns. “You have to give them growth opportunities, as it benefits the team members and the business. You’ve got to look for ways to differentiate yourself from other organisations. The truth is that many will eventually leave the nest, but as long as you keep them growing and learning, they will be more likely to stay will you for the long haul. And that’s where Agile helps.”
Brendan shares that many engineers and developers really value growth in the form of opportunities and leadership. “They don’t want to be just another cog in the machine,” he adds.
He puts what he calls brown bag sessions in place, where team members will share something interesting they’ve read or learned with the team. In this way, he encourages a growth mindset, and while not everybody wants to lead a team and bring new ideas and concepts to the table, he hopes the growth mindset will eventually rub off on others. “I want to spark passion.”
Brendan agrees that adopting the Agile model is a brave step for many organisations, but believes its value is clear. “Business is all about transformation. I have failed over and over again. We are seeing new ways of working, with disruptors coming from all directions, and we have to embrace this future. It may be tricky to navigate, especially for larger organisations, but I think it’s a really exciting space. And somebody’s got to do it.”