Synopsis: How might your firm resolve dissonant voices as you develop your firm’s products? Can your firm’s resilience have anything to gain by examining the Baroque period of music? A firm’s voice from its leadership, engineering team, service providers and investors are not always aligned. Disagreements in perspective, direction and timing can exist. If left unresolved, this dissonance can doom key engineering projects and threaten a firm’s existence. We examine how the Baroque period in music (roughly 1600-1750AD) has offered ways to both articulate divergent voices, yet provide consonance and resolution through an underlying theme.
Dissonance (i.e. “a combination of sounds or musical notes that are not pleasant when heard together”–Cambridge Dictionary) became a topic for this blog, after Minda and I were inspired by performances offered at UNLV, as part of the university’s first ever Baroque Festival. While a number of composers from that period are highly regarded today (J.S. Bach, Corelli, Handel, Monteverdi, Telemann, & Vivaldi, to name a few), their work clashed with earlier forms of music. Critics attempted to degrade this ‘new’ music, at times referring to it as being misshapen. Hence the term ‘baroque’ was used to describe this music.
Thanks to this ‘misshapen’ music that survived critics & time, we can enjoy masterpieces like Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo (Orpheus), Handel’s Messiah and the extensive collection of works by J.S. Bach.
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Today’s Baroque Era in Engineering
Today’s New Product Development group doesn’t operate in a vacuum. You see it with your marketing group asking your engineering team to deliver new, or revised feature sets. Existing and prospective service providers are keeping you abreast of new capabilities and benefits of integrating with your initiatives. Meanwhile, disgruntled customers & critics may be sharing their take of your firm in social media. Institutional investors or VC’s are meanwhile asking for more details on new product release dates, customer composition, and cash flow. You and your C-leadership team may also be developing new initiatives, adding additional burdens on a product.
Over-regulation is not limited to government alone; it can happen in your company with the best of intentions.
Your engineers are grappling with multiple development demands, from feature lists, core requirements, remedial actions and new corporate initiatives. Compared to pure research, your engineering team is indeed becoming misshapen, as it tries to recognize, understand, rank and adapt articulated needs into the characteristics of your product. How do you know if you’ve gone far enough to properly weigh and address product needs from those sources? Her are a few questions to find out how you are doing.
1. Customer Voice
How well do you recognize and actively discuss why, how and when you will resolve any major performance issues with existing and prospective clients? Are you truthful in your contact and contractual obligations with existing and prospective clients? Firms believing they can generate new products without addressing customer issues and fulfilling their expectations do so at their own peril. Crowd-funded projects can morph into marketing nightmares if commitments to new product releases aren’t honored.
2. Engineering Team Voice
Do you listen to your team members and encourage dialog on issues they perceive in system architecture, new project obstacles, assigned work and development methods? Some leaders seem to be only attenuated to hear what they want to hear, like meeting technical milestones and product release dates. You, however, take the time to coax out any real, underlying dissonance.
It’s vital that your team recognizes and understands their technological & operational constraints, as well as the product and general development constraints as articulated by their customers, partners, investors & leadership.
3. Service Partner Voice
Performing all work in-house isn’t always possible. Selecting service partners may seem straightforward, based on their prior performance. But how well has the communication you and your partner been clarified, to maintain the integrity of your partner relationship? Is candor encouraged, with trust well established in collectively confronting and resolving issues? I remember discovering an engineering director had been reluctant to share with a major ASIC sourcing partner slippages to our team’s development schedule. By withholding this information, the ASIC was not being properly exercised to the provider’s schedule. This action could result in the next larger ASIC pilot lot having integration or performance issues, with costly delays in time, if any latent revision was required. The director had a change in heart and shared the information with the partner. ASIC risk exposures in time and scrapping the subsequent build were averted. While the partner was not delighted with the delay, their trust and respect for us as a client was not jeopardized.
4. Seed Equity & Market Investor Voice
It is indeed challenging to conceive, experiment, prototype and deliver new products. Failing to deliver even once on promises made to investors can be devastating. They bet on you delivering results. The consequences of your firm’s credibility being challenged by not delivering on promises can result in your firm’s cost of capital skyrocketing–think high Visa rates. This will warp your company’s prevailing values and ways of conducting business. You may ultimately make ends meet and deliver on previously unmet commitments to investors. Your company however may no longer bear any resemblance to your startup firm or skunk works division that you were so proud to lead or play an active role in developing.
5. C-Level Leadership Voice
A healthy balance of leadership & engagement with staff in the details of running a business, particularly with founders can be vexing. Are you trained on the big picture and hiring competent managers and staff to run your business, meeting your articulated objectives?
What happens when all the above voices are articulated, but given only lip service? We get companies releasing products with latent issues, like for example exploding Samsung Galaxy 7 phones. Some voices were clearly compromised.
The singular focus on new features for a product release may neglect attention to a previous generation’s core product requirements that operated flawlessly. Two lithium battery fires on the Boeing Dreamliner early in 2013 immediately grounded a global fleet of delivered aircraft. This resulted in unscheduled time and resource commitments by Boeing, the NTSB and Boeing’s battery supplier to assess the root or probable cause for the fires.
Client abandonment, given a failure of the proportions experienced by Samsung and Boeing can be instantaneous. Second chances to recover from engineering miscues are not guaranteed, particularly if your firm has limited cash reserves and lacks impeccable brand credentials. Why make your firm more difficult to manage?
When engineering has listened to, heeded and balanced the voices in their product, we hear superlatives heaped on a firm’s management and engineers for their incredible accomplishments. Increased revenue generally follows such accolades. Can you remember these wonderful occasions in your career? What may have prevented this from regularly reoccurring?
To balance the voices requires listening and understanding what those voices mean, what consequences they may have on your firm if ignored, and how their message resonates through your firm’s product, brand, company, industry, and public.
Re-discover Your Firm’s Baroque Voices & Continuo
Within Baroque music, a solo musician was often joined by “continuo”l a team consisting of a keyboard (initially harpsichord, later piano) and a low bass instrument (cello or bassoon) providing support to the underlying harmony and theme. here is generally an undercurrent. This begs the questions:
- What is the underlying theme you maintain in your product development?”
- Does your theme have clarity, or is it a muddled, shallow set of ideals, like ‘best in class’, or ‘having best practices’? This gives little in the way of foundation and commitment to whatever structure your team is building.You may wish to speak with peers outside your firm, to get objective appraisals of your existing theme.
- What do your senior design engineers ‘hear’ from you, representing your firm’s key management, or leadership? Is it ‘build it fast’; ‘build it cheap’; or ‘build it on time’? Could it alternatively be, ‘build it to adapt to a client’s needs’; ‘build it for endurance’; or ‘build it for user responsiveness’? The former set presents a constraint but has no tangible value from your customer’s perspective. The latter set conveys a message what is held in high esteem by you and your firm. It differentiates your firm in your industry.
Music & Engineering: Not Misshapen; Triumphant!
Contrary to Baroque era critics, Baroque works were very well-shaped, displaying balance, complexity, and counterpoint. Your firm and your engineering team need that clear consonance understood and resonating in your product, reflecting your effort to respect the many voices.
In Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No 2 (included on the Voyager I spacecraft’s golden record), there is a triumphant high pitched trumpet solo that captures our attention through the entire third (Allegro assai–Very Fast tempo) and final movement. It’s incredible. It’s inspiring. This is the kind of powerful, distinctive message that you need to broadcast, as you develop and release your next product.
If you have balanced all your voices in your hardware or software product, then it’s time for you, your team and your firm to take a bow following its release. The voices–however different–have been properly weighted into your masterpiece. Experience the applause from your client, employee, service partner and investor audience. It’s awesome, isn’t it?
It’s time to write your next product chapter, working on balancing all your voices and leading your spirited engineering team as its conductor. Great things are bound to happen.
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