The CTO, Manager and Bandmaster

orchestreThe CTO, Manager and Bandmaster (Parts 1 & 2)

Part 1 Importance of the rhythm

According to Hector Berlioz, the essential qualities of a conductor are “to hear and see, he must be agile and strong, know the composition, nature and scope of the instruments, how to read the score.” This ultimately also describes very well the qualities of a manager. Certainly the metaphor of a conductor as manager is not new, but it has the merit of stimulating our senses. I would like to take a look at a particular aspect of this comparison: the rhythm. For the conductor as for the manager, the rhythm is at the heart of harmony and success.

I started playing trumpet at the age of 11 years and after a few years, I joined the jazz band, “Big Band Jazz Factory,” of Cahors (Lot). This is where I discovered that a good soloist is not necessarily a good musician in a band. Indeed, his bearings change: listening is no longer the same, the rate is no longer his own… To evolve, he adapts to his new environment and begins serving the group whose members must combine their skills and knowledge for excellence, all under the direction of conductor. For twenty years I led dozens of people on dozens of projects.  I was also led by a dozen managers in SMEs, a start-up and a large industrial group. Looking back, I am convinced that the rhythm brought by the manager is an essential in proper direction.

Above all, the conductor-manager must therefore be sensitive to rhythm. Somehow, he must have the rhythm in his skin. Here, our pace is not instilled by a metronome. Yet it is noticeable. It pulsates our working rhythm, our hours, our days and our weeks. But about which rhythm are we talking about,  that of the team, the manager, customers, purveyors, the society, or its stockholders? Our orchestra is quickly expanding! We have a strong feeling that the rhythm depends on its environment: start-ups, SMEs, big groups, etc. Is there an ideal rhythm? Slow, fast… musical work remains sublime.

Miyamoto Musashi (a Samuraï of the 16th century) tells us in his “Book of 5 Rings” that in all things there is a rhythm: “When the rhythm dominates, execution is good.” He added: “We must discern the rising pace and decadent rhythm… to know concordant rhythm and understand discordant rhythm.”  Is that not the job of the conductor, who seeks to achieve perfection in the interpretation?! With the score (eg transforming an organization, creating a version n + 1 of a software) and musicians (project managers, developers, testers, etc.), the conductor-manager will now find and beat the rhythm for the proper performance of his score. He feels the natural pulse of the team, gets in tune with it and amplifies it, exaggerates for all to feel, so that by speeding up or slowing down, everyone follows it. By resonance effect, the audience will naturally take it on themselves. Who has not stomped or swayed his head to music he likes! The wave is more powerful, its reach is far. The bad notes are spotted immediately, but in a cacophony, the discordant is less audible.

With a very slow rhythm, it’s more difficult to maintain a regular beat. In this case, the main challenge of the manager is to manage this slow time to maintain focus so that all the actors play their next notes simultaneously. The challenge for the manager is to introduce one or more additional rhythms(s). How? For example, introducing joint projects or intermediate individual targets. With a fast pace, it’s the opposite. The tempo is maintained more easily, the manager adds one or more sub-rhythms. How? Giving objectives over the medium term (eg quarter). Our professional experiences awaken our sensitivity to rhythm. This education is more formative in a fast-paced environment. The manager will hear and see the concordant and discordant over the execution. If it’s not sufficient, he must act vigorously to get everyone in unison. Without his conductor’s baton, he will act with behavior (gestures, words), finding intermediaries, kinds of amplifiers, which are going to help him as he leans on the “first” of every group of instruments.

In a start-up business or one with a few dozen employees, our conductor is alone; his role is endorsed by the CEO or the CO. In a larger the company, more managers-conductors will “get their act together.” It is as if several bands play together in the same auditorium! Without listening to each other, the result is inaudible.

In concluding this section, the Chief Technology Officer, the manager-conductor, must be sensitive to the rhythm to beat the tempo of his team while listening to the other managers with whom he plays a super score. Having deployed the Agile methods in my teams, I have seen a radical change in their behavior. The daily meetings, the sprints from 2 to 4 weeks, intermediate deliveries beating the tempo, enabling all players to work in unison around a shared vision and known product, from the software production line to the customers. Another finding, the implementation of Objectives and Key Results (OKR), translating the vision of the business objectives & expected business results each quarter broken down by department and individual, brings transparency, clear communication and especially, visibility on the score to be played.

Part 2

In the skin of a conductor, the Chief Technology Officer beats the measure and sets the tempo. We saw in the first part he must lead and act (H. Berlioz) by sending signals to the musicians to react to. They  (musicians) need to know how read the score to interpret his orchestration. In this second part, I’d like to draw attention to the score and its execution as applied to business.

Before a performance, the conductor analyses the score to be interpreted: its origin (epoch, author), its direction, its purpose. His main mission is to ensure cohesion: moving the orchestra along according to its shortcomings. So he works every desk, corrects wrong notes, learns to listen to others. In business, the manager also makes repetition (team meetings), communicates the rules (best practices) and creates common approaches that ensure consistency. The CTO, manager, is there to serve others. He acts (negotiates, evaluates, reassures, touches up, explains) with the intention of searching for ways to optimize or increase the adequacy of the contribution of each one and also to motivate. He’s not afraid to repeat the “chorus” to persuade. He helps each one to accomplish their mission, to bring to their intention the correct movement. In turn, the manager is trying to develop his capacity to an intuitive and spontaneous interpretation of what to say, do or avoid in his human relations everyday without hurting anyone’s feeling. In communicating his enthusiasm, he sends a message, a call to action.

I don’t believe that management has an exhibitionist and self-centered approach where the manager takes the stage and “lays it out.” The approach is much deeper than flattery or manipulation. In an environment of constraints and contradictions, he communicates clearly and in depth to bring out the meaning(s) and make(s) it/them available to others.  The manager is not distinguished by pompous speeches but by his actions. In particular, he listens to others (employees, customers, shareholders, etc.) that have their own vision to understand their intentions, and also knows how leave openings to that everyone can speak.

Then comes the moment of execution whose aim is for all the musicians to play the same work (project, business strategy) together. His right hand beats the measure and marks the dynamics with his wand. With his left hand, he conveys emotion and color, and also with his face, his body…  His commitment is total. The artistic gesture blended with the managerial gesture strengthens the manager’s position. In business as in an orchestra, everyone plays his part.

To execute the score, the CTO knows the project management methods (V cycle, Agile, etc.), the role of each stakeholder (business, product owner, scrum master, project manager, developer, tester, ops, etc. .), instruments (specifications, user stories, languages and frameworks, IDE, map and test tools, etc.), and especially the critical points (risks) identified in the course of planning, such as phase changes or coordination points in a schedule. He puts forward all visible indicators. He communicates the intensity of the phases,  crescendo, or meno forte, for example, at the beginning of each.

We cannot talk about music without talking about emotion. Stirring the emotions is in the nature of music. In the world of business, especially large ones, emotion is less present because the employee is “framed and formatted” by processes, procedures, and dashboards that inhibit emotional expression. On a personal note, I showed my teams paintings by french artists. It was an opportunity to engage in more personal discussions about the tastes and emotions of each. I was (pleasantly) surprised that the answers were increasingly rich regarding the various exhibitions. It is as if the imagination, intuition, and boldness to share their emotions rose to the surface of their personalities, enriched by the exchange.

Understand your environment, your actors, your constraints and purpose. Be neither too optimistic nor too pessimistic;  the score must be realistic and logical (explicable). It is the experience of the CTO manager combined with his originality that allows him to define the best score while remaining consistent with himself. The performance requires a proven methodology and organization. Approximation has no place. The CTO, the central instrument of the symphony, must play his part methodically and rhythmically in tune with the teams he has… An art!

 Jean-Christophe (Jay C)

One thought on “The CTO, Manager and Bandmaster

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  1. The picture of a conductor leading a large orchestra is a good one. Another might be the coach of a professional team. You’ve presented very well the fact that a manager leads, with appropriate pressure, much like a conductor or coach. The days of whipping the workers to raise production are gone (thankfully) and production has gone up!


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