Interview With Kelly Waters

Kelly Waters: An insight into the Chief Thinking of the UK's most Valuable Agile Player. 


With over 30 years experience in the software industry, Kelly Waters has a deep understanding of the tech space and what it takes to bring about successful product development and delivery. Having begun his career originally as a developer, Kelly has gained a broad exposure to a range of different roles from Technology Lead and Project Manager through to Director of Engineering and CTO. In 2010, Kelly was recognised for his work by the agile community when he won an award for being the ‘Most Valuable Agile Player in the UK’. In 2016 he also won an award for ‘most popular online contributor’ in the agile community.

Kelly continues to help shape the ‘agile’ debate both in the UK and abroad through a combination of regular industry speaking engagements and events as well as via his well-established blog


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What are the top 3 priorities in your role?

In my current role as CEO of 101 Ways there’s three main things I’m focussing on personally:

Recruitment - I'm looking to appoint a Finance Director - I am looking to get a lot of the Finance and Operational stuff off my plate so I can focus more on growing the business and the more interesting parts of the role for me; the technology and delivery aspects.

Oversees Growth - We are looking to start up 101 Ways in Amsterdam and have been going out there much more regularly, contributing to the community and generally increasing our presence. There's a really vibrant culture, one where we're looking forward to sharing knowledge and technical ideas at various events - I love Amsterdam it has a very vibrant tech scene and some really exciting up and coming Tech Start-ups.

Product – We are keen to start our own product business and are just about to get started on that journey! At this stage, it’s still confidential but we have so much product and technology expertise - we feel like we make great products for our clients and it’s about time we brought one to market for ourselves.


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Which previous role had the biggest impact on your career?

I’ve had so many good roles, I’ve been very fortunate with the company’s I’ve worked for, each one has played its own part. The one I think had the most impact was when I was the head of web solutions for RBI (Reed Business Information). As you probably know, RBI are a large publisher in the B2B space producing lots of Trade Journals originally, and moving more latterly into digital - It's a place where I really started working with agile methods, previously I tinkered with agile but RBI really embraced it. We did a massive amount of agile transformation which was really successful and at the same time I saw the executive team at RBI make some really brilliant strategic decisions about their products, shifting from being a print base journal business to something that used data and subscription based products completely transforming the business as well as ways in which we worked.

I learned such a lot in that role and it's really formed many of my views about best practices, not just in terms of agile and how to build great teams, but also product management. Much of the success at 101 now can be traced back to things that I learnt or people I knew back at RBI, for me that was 10 years ago but made a very significant impact on my career and my role now.


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How do you see the role of the Technology Leader changing?

Good question - It’s been changing, for a long time, significantly. The change that I've seen is moving away from a position where an IT Leader manages internal systems, internal teams, focuses on supplier management, cost control and cost efficiency to one where Technology is a Business Leader who can build digital products that transform a business’s revenue model and can generate revenue, not just manage the costs. This requires a completely different mind-set because investing in the right things to generate revenue takes a completely different skill set to managing costs. Learning digital products, digital marketing and different revenue models as well as how to foster teams that innovate and can build products that generate revenue is a very different position to managing an internal IT department. Increasingly this idea of IT and Digital being separate, I don't think is the case anymore – IT leaders need to become product and business leaders too.


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What are the most important issues confronting the technology industry?

Talent - The biggest challenge is talent and the shortage of great people with the right skills. We try to make it our own business to be the best at finding great people, going further than a recruitment agency who may not have the same technical skills or an internal recruitment department who may be blocked by their own processes. Finding great talent is still immensely challenging, the fact is there just aren't enough good people. There are people who are very smart, but finding people who have great technical skills, in the right technologies, in the right location, that have brilliant people skills and fit the culture is a lot of boxes to tick and there just aren’t that many people that can tick them all. Competition for talent is clearly the biggest issue for me.

Diversity – It makes me sad to see a lack of diversity in technology. This is something I'm really passionate about, looking at all of the technical teams I’ve worked with in multiple different companies there’s a lack of diversity, whether it’s different races or women, teams are made up of nearly entirely white men, which I think is terrible and doesn't represent society, but also doesn't represent the user base that we are building products for. If we are going to build products for people, that work for people, we need people in the teams that reflect the community that the products are aimed at. It's a very big issue and we need to ensure that we do our part in trying to raise awareness and see if we can help groups that are minorities in technology.


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What technology trends are you most excited about and why?

The amazing thing about technology is how it just keeps on moving and it’s moving faster than ever - There are a few that definitely stand out to me:

Cloud – The move to cloud based infrastructure and becoming server-less is still not fully adopted by very many companies. Things like being server-less is probably just the beginning of, maybe, a second phase. I think there’s still a lot coming in the cloud space. If I look back to managing data centres and cabling, that's just a memory for me now and I'm very happy that’s the case.

Node and React - We've seen a massive uplift in the amount of demand for Node and React, the thing that interests me is because Node and React are JavaScript based you can come from a background that is either front-end based or back-end and apply the same skills. I think what I really like about it is the ability to utilise similar skills meaning that we might be able to progress the Talent Shortage debate a bit further. The more we can converge over a smaller number of technologies the greater the pool of talent becomes.


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    What product or company is having the biggest impact?

    Probably no surprises but LinkedIn has certainly made a massive difference for us, the ability to reach people that hopefully would like to work with us has been transformed by LinkedIn, as well as the ability to promote what we do and generate business. Internally Slack is the one I would call out. The amount of communication that happens on Slack means that the numerous emails I used to get each day is greatly reduced, conversations are much more dynamic and free flowing.


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    What mobile app do you use every day?

    Slack again, it is now as important for me as email. It's not just for fun and chatter but fast moving comms where we need to communicate on something important, quickly.


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    What 3 skills should an aspiring Technology Leader look to develop?

    People -  everything is about people in the end, it’s people who build the product, people that use the product, people who fund building the product - Developing people skills and the very wide range of aspects of that is critical point number one.

    Agile - Not necessarily a specific methodology, but the kind of values that allow us to do short, iterative, experimental, developments and adjust where we are going based on data and so on - Having these kinds of capabilities within a technology organisation is absolutely imperative if you want to compete with the best products as well as understanding the basic principles and being able to lead teams or a group of teams that work that way. So many leaders that I’ve worked with are only just making the transition, meaning teams may be doing agile but they haven't managed to create the culture, structure and processes surrounding it that fit quite right.

    Digital – Many technology leaders don't come from a background of building digital products and so there's a huge amount to learn about web, mobile, digital marketing and so on which I think a technology leader today must know. Unless you really understand digital products, digital technologies, digital techniques coupled with agile ways of working and have great people skills you are going to struggle in a modern IT function.


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    Where do you look for trusted technology information & inspiration?

    I don’t follow one individual or one site – I’ve found that LinkedIn has become the place where I discover links to interesting things, however as you know often the content isn’t on LinkedIn. Whereas I used to rely more on Twitter I find that I can get sufficient inspiration from LinkedIn, maybe because I have a large network I see a lot of variety in the content that services there, I’ve become almost completely reliant on that to discover new information.


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    What books should someone looking to get on in their technology career read?

    I’ve made it a habit to always be reading something, the book I would pick out would be Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, I mention that because following the comment I made earlier, technology is about people, combinations of people and how they work together. What I like about Five Dysfunctions of a Team is that it focuses on trust and what it takes to create harmony in a team.