Book summary: The Jazz Process (III)

This is the third part of my summary of the book “The Jazz Process” by Adrian Cho. You can read parts one and two on this blog. This part will cover the rest of “Collaborating” and part of “Executing”.

Collaborating: lead on demand

Two surprising things about leadership: no widespread agreement for the definition and we tend to think it’s the sole responsibility of a small group. The main point in leadership is taking initiative (within your roles or responsibilities). Successful leadership often has a domain, and it’s not valid in others.

Jazz musicians simply cannot let leadership roles remain statically assigned if they want to create interesting, innovative music > > Adrian Cho > >

Blitzkrieg was successful because of decentralised leadership. Strict, centralised leadership inhibits creativity and agility: the path to success lies in giving up control. [However, have a look at the “Controversy” section in Wikipedia—Esteban]

Issuing navigational commands is one of the most vital elements of leadership. Taking the first step along a different path is also critically important, and this duty must be shared. People should feel responsible for helping steer and maintain momentum. If any member of the team has ideas about how to improve performance, she should feel empowered to speak out.

Not everyone can lead at the same time, you have to balance individual creativity and team stability. Alternating between leader and follower helps broaden their perception, which results in better leaders and followers.

Collaborating: act transparently

Transparency in execution reduces the time for others to (1) observe your actions (and increases the likelihood of it happening), and (2) understand/interpret their impact (increasing accuracy of interpretations). Transparency potentially grows teams, communities and customer bases, as we appreciate honesty, openness and authenticity; we feel naturally curious to know what happens behind the scenes; and it can alleviate fears/concerns about the unknown.

Leaders sometimes assume employees will require only certain information. This is somewhat arrogant, and employees often feel they’re left in the dark. It also makes groupthink more likely. Openness makes people understand each other’s problems, important when failures or low performance strike.

A research on plane accidents showed that leaders are far more likely to make mistakes when rushing into action instead of waiting to obtain more information that often can be obtained from other team members. Further research on those results showed that pilots making the right choices routinely had open exchanges with other crew members. Besides, crew members who worked with leaders not promoting open culture were unwilling to intervene in potential accidents even if they had information about it.

Transparency in enabled by authenticity, openness, timeliness and clarity.

Collaborating: make contributions count

Recognising valuable contributions rewards and motivates. To make contributions more valuable, people should measure: (1) effort to make and integrating the contribution (not everyone requires the same effort for the value), (2) value of the contribution (the value of a contribution is a function of many things, including the other contributions), (3) impact of integrating the contribution (never underestimate the impact of integrating a contribution).

Making the most with available resources develops resilience in the team. Striving for perfection should not be above all else: mistakes in sports are common, but defeating your opponent is usually more important than an error-free game.

We have to contribute in a way that makes sense for us individually (examples in p.175). By focusing more on quality than quantity, we can spend more time in the observation phase of OODA. The most fundamental thing is that people listen to others and understand enough about the team’s collective efforts that they can identify and support important contributions. When individuals can measure effort, value and impact, they can time their contributions better.

Executing: reduce friction

Countless minor incidents combine to lower performance. Friction is the force that makes the apparently easy so difficult.

Reducing friction can take long. Instead, lubricants can be used: apologising/accepting blame for a mistake, acknowledging facts, making changes that demonstrate willingness to address a problem, giving credit where its due, downplaying mistakes others make.

Too much friction is bad, but too little is also a problem (can lead to hunting).

Executing: maintain momentum

Critical mass is enough momentum for an activity to be self-sustaining. To reach this state, considerable effort and resources must be placed, esp. if there’s resistance.

The most important element of momentum is regularity. People are drawn to the predictability of regular cycles (see “entrainment”, ie. two or more interacting oscillating systems falling into the same period). There are four elements that leverage people affinity to regular cycles:

  • Form: Most activities that require commitment to a goal have a form or structure (examples in p.199). People use the predictability of the form to set goals, time deliveries and shape contributions. It helps coordinate efforts and increase synergy. It’s important to use a form appropriate for the situation (not too many/few checkpoints).

  • Tempo: Overall pace. If there are three months to release a feature, but the estimation was six, the team’s ability to adapt depends on their freedom to set their goals (like dropping parts or reducing performance). When setting a tempo, take into account the goals, abilities of individual team members and the flexibility of their processes.

  • Pulse: Like a heartbeat. It’s a constant event that drives and helps the team keep in sync with the tempo. It’s always a function of the tempo.

  • Groove: A function of the pulse. Set of essential, fundamental activities that are repeated with respect to the pulse (examples in p.207-209). It invites people to participate and align their contributions with it. It’s most effective when simple and clear to everyone.

In software, a project manager may set all four (esp. the first two), and component team leaders define specific grooves inside their own teams.

Looking ahead for potential issues and addressing them before they become problems helps avoiding losing momentum, but strike a balance between planning and reacting. Other advice: (1) add weight to a contribution to give it greater significance, esp. in slower tempos; and (2) prepare an important contribution with a preceding smaller contribution.

And this is all for the third part. The next will be the last one, and will cover the rest of “Executing”, and “Innovating”.