In Lab - Archive

The music and enterprise metaphor - Sheet music, arranging the process

Franco Marzo - Coaching e business development

What is sheet music? Instructions on how to use the instruments

 Music notation dates back to the early 11th century when Guido of Arezzo, a monk of the Benedectine Order, produced the first example of a music score on 4 lines, subsequently developed into the modern stave thanks to a famous work by Gioseffo Zarlino from Chioggia: “Le istituzioni Harmoniche”.  The initial idea, developed in a rather basic form in ancient Greece, was to combine musical notes to the words in the lyrics. In short, something like an "instructions sheet" given to musicians and singers in order to perform a piece of music in unison. Over time, music notation evolved to the point of being able to transcribe works of great complexity, just think of Symphony No. 9 by Beethoven, known as "Ode to Joy", which involves more than 140 performers, orchestra soloists and chorus.

 A music score makes it possible to perform a piece of music without ever having heard it before. If you think that the first turntables date back to a hundred years ago, it is easy to understand how important music scores were towards the end of the 800s, and thanks to them, great compositions by the likes of Verdi and Beethoven were performed without having been heard before. Music scores can rightly be considered the most refined and effective instruction manual that man has ever been able to create. Why? Well think about it, music notations not only identify who should play what, but also when and how. And that is not all, every score in fact displays, top left, the sort of attitude that musicians should take: Allegro con brio, Grave, Lento etc. True,  a composer might well memorize his work and execute it alone without difficulty, but a score gives him the opportunity to involve other musicians and/or singers and develop more intricate and enthralling arrangements.


 Therefore, we can safely say that music scores are closely tied to managing complex performances. When several instruments must be played at once, precision and perfect timing are essential and a score becomes indispensable, and that is not all, it could also be considered one of the first management tools (knowledge management) known to man. The metaphor here is quite clear. Companies, performing highly complex activities with many people involved and strict deadlines, resort to business flow charts to identify exactly who does what, when and how. 

The goal is to get everyone to do the right thing at the right time. For companies, though, business process mapping are not always easy . Many entrepreneurs find it hard to represent production processes on paper. That is why mapping a process, a sub-process, entire cycles or even single activities can be considered something for the specialist. Yet, if an entrepreneur desires to improve the quality of his company’s performance, it is a necessary evil. Think of a pit stop in Formula 1, in 2.6 seconds a complete set of tires is changed. But to achieve this, the whole process must first be broken down in many different steps. These must be perfectly assimilated by the mechanics who then put it all together and execute in the shortest possible time, moving in perfect sync with the rest of the team. Each of the 20 mechanics depicted in the photo “plays” his part, as if part of an orchestra.


Why use a musical score?

In part, we have already considered how it:

1. supplies correct instructions on what needs to be done

2. guarantees the right timing for the job

3. optimizes any process  (maximum performance, minimum effort)

1.  Putting on paper what needs to be done means creating a wealth of knowledge available to all. A jazz player and personal friend of mine was so skilled in reading scores that he could play any musical piece at a glance. He told me that this particular skill made him quite famous with other musicians too, so that when a musician suddenly got ill or was unavailable, they would call him even at the last moment, knowing that with him they would still come out on top. Mapping any process makes even the most invaluable knowledge accessible to all so that no musician becomes necessary: everyone’s job is useful but no one is indispensible.

2. When it comes to proper timing, the duration of each step can be accurately measured, including , downtime, bottlenecks as well as the longest and shortest phases. For example, if the A process lasts 10 seconds and the B process lasts 3 seconds, the operator managing the second phase will spend 7 seconds doing nothing waiting for operator A to finish his work. At this point, systems can be studied in order to speed up the work of (A) or how to increase the number of operators in (A) so that two or three processes can merge in (B) rather than just one. When time is a priority over everything else,  like a pit stop in Formula 1, there can be no hesitation in having a person dedicated to each stage, but when it is necessary to deal with costs, then the best compromise must be found.

3. The third point concerns the efficiency of the process in relation to priorities, normally the cost (time intended as a priority (pit stop), is not frequent among us "mere mortals"). If a manual operation occupies a period of time, we will define as 100 at a cost of, let us say 1000, an automation of that process can be properly evaluated with more effective tools or even specially built machines. In every situation it is necessary to evaluate the cost / benefit ratio of each solution. When I was a child, the tire fitter below my family’s apartment used to take at least an hour to repair a tire. Today each process is optimized through highly efficient machines and can be done in 10 minutes. A  “business score” therefore, streamlines the various phases of the work making them efficient, i.e. maximum results with minimum resources.

Every process can and must be improved. Much research has been dedicated to manufacturing processes, but nowadays the same logic is increasingly applied to services as well. Mapping services, though, is more difficult because you do not have a tangible object to study. When it comes to services, it takes imagination, just as in music. I remember when I had to map, for the first time, an insurance process, and I  had to deal with very abstract activities such as: "controlling" the completeness of data. The lack of a tax code on  a policy made it very difficult to insert it into a data bank with a huge  waste of time for the operator.  “Assessing" potential risks is also an activity, but try mapping it! Try to break it down into single steps and then try to streamline the process! The knowledge economy has made the creation of tools that speed up and control also mental processes essential: data entry, credit scoring systems, calculation programs. One of the most fascinating processes to be analyzed is the "sales process". I worked for a large company that broke it down into 21 different stages, more than a pit stop! This is not the place to describe them all, but “greeting” is certainly the first step. Well, since "we have no second chance to make a good first impression", it is clear that before greeting someone it would be advisable to start with a "customer analysis" to understand who he is, when was the last time he came, what he bought, has he been satisfied, is he in order with the payments, does he have close relatives (if so when did they last come, what for, were they also satisfied). And when we are finally ready, how do we actually greet a customer? Step 1, breathe with the diaphragm, the voice must come out strong and unwavering, we have to transmit confidence and authority; Step 2 introduce yourself, your surname first followed by your first name and then your surname again (something like, my name is Bond, James Bond); Step 3 look at the customer straight into the eyes, if we are shy we can look between the eyebrows, no one will notice the difference; Step  4 shake hands, a good firm hand shake, not too hard though, you do not want to hurt your client. As you can see it is quite easy to count 21 different steps, and we haven’t even started mentioning the product yet, or its advantages over the competition, the benefits for the customer as well as the payment terms.


How to do it? Listen, observe and use a method.

Process mapping needs method and observation. Method can channel our thoughts in the right direction, while through power of observation we analyze the various steps, assessing the difficulties and consequences of each. Having a score allows a musician to play through difficult passages without being caught unprepared during a live performance. Similarly, foreseeing critical issues before they occur allows the company to have solutions available without having to rely on improvisation and make mistakes. For example, going back to the "sales process", not providing for different forms of payment may hinder the positive outcome of a negotiation.

As for the method, here are some helpful tips. Normally we start from a macro process. In music, this could be a "song" or a "soundtrack ". Once again, we take “sales” as an example. At this point we have to imagine what takes place, all the different phases: how it starts, how it develops, how it is reinforced and how it  ends (in a song: intro, verse, bridge, refrain , riff, refrain, conclusion). Let us change the intro into “presentation”, every time we face a customer we are going to draw on the “presentation model”: method! A great jazz musician said that you can improvise anything as long as you have tried it before. At this point, we can begin to describe the different behaviors. To do this we will use only gerunds: once again, method! Breathing (how to prepare your voice); Standing (where and how to stand, posture, proxemics, so as to better manage a relationship); Saying your name (how to show confidence); shaking hands (how to transmit positive energy); offering a coffee (how to be hospitable); asking how things are going (how to do it); receiving clients in the office (where and how to be seated). Every verb defines an action and “how” to perform it. For example, “be polite" means nothing! Process activities must always consider “how” to do things. "Be polite!" does not explain how to do it! A musical score defines every single note, every pause and every accent, whether metric, rhythmic, dynamic etc. The score represents the detail, the nuance, what needs to be done by any musician at any time, but if you think the score is enough to perform well a song, you are wrong; the real secret has yet to be unfolded. The last article of our series  is in fact dedicated to “interpretation”. 

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