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This chapter is from the book

Momentum in an Organization

I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter that destructive momentum can be a problem. Yet even constructive momentum can cause problems if it is not effectively managed. To begin with, all contributors should be aware of the process by which form, tempo, pulse, and groove are defined. In a jazz ensemble, the form is typically set by the composer of the music to be performed. The leader of the group sets the tempo, and the rhythm section plays an important role in helping the ensemble maintain that tempo. The rhythm section is also largely responsible for defining the pulse and the groove, although those musicians may follow a composer’s directions, if any are given. The bassist often takes the lead in defining the pulse and the groove, although this can vary with different ensembles. The drummer, if there is one, is the primary communicator of the tempo. It’s natural for this responsibility to fall to the drummer because everyone in the ensemble can clearly hear the unique timbre of the drums. Short, sharp sounds such as the click of a hi-hat or the snap of a snare allow the drummer to clearly delineate the time. Both the drummer and the bassist play repetitive parts, and this provides the predictable regularity that others in the ensemble can hook into. In software development, a project manager or release manager may set the form, tempo, and perhaps pulse and overall groove, with component team leaders setting specific grooves within their own teams. The assignment of responsibilities can vary greatly. What’s important is that everyone understand where the responsibilities lie and stay willing to help build and maintain momentum. Just one person working against the effort can render it ineffective.

The idea that specific grooves may exist within the framework set by a more general groove is important. In Cuban music, the efforts of a multiperson rhythm section are defined first by a pattern known as the clave (pronounced “CLA-veh”), which is played on a pair of wooden sticks known as claves. All the other rhythm section instruments, including the timbales, congas, bongos, maracas, guiro, piano, and bass, each play their own specific rhythms that lock into the clave.

In large teams or organizations, or in complex projects, there may be multiple independent but related efforts that each benefit from momentum. For example, a software development team may define an annual cadence of product releases and updates as follows:

This cadence defines four deliveries, as follows:

  • A major release in June (such as 4.0), with fixes and substantial new features
  • An incremental maintenance fix-pack in September (such as, with fixes for defects
  • A minor release in December (such as 4.0.1), with fixes for defects and a few new features
  • Another incremental maintenance fix-pack in March (such as

July and August are vacation months, and one of the fix-packs must be delivered while the work for the major release is underway. The momentum associated with such a schedule is very important because it affects customers; they may need to know when new features or defect fixes will be delivered so they can plan rollouts of software updates in their organizations. This schedule implies a monthly tempo and a pulse in which there is a release every three months. The groove is Fix–Major–Fix–Minor. Say it to yourself a number of times rhythmically to feel the groove, with a stress on the releases in bold. The annual form, evident in the table, is this:

  • Six months of intense work
  • Two months of vacation
  • One month of fixing
  • Three months of relatively intense work

The development schedule for each of these releases employs its own form, tempo, pulse, and groove to help maintain momentum for the delivery of its release. The tempo and pulse could be weekly, whereas the form for a major release might look like this:




6 weeks


6 weeks


6 weeks


3 weeks


2 weeks


2 weeks


1 week

The groove might define builds, team meetings, and testing and fixing efforts, as described earlier.

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