Part 2: Anticipate the Music


Part 2: Anticipate the Music

Posts in this four-part series examine how product leadership can better operate through the lessons of music.

Music hinges on an idea of anticipation. Playing becomes second nature to a point that you can almost understand where it will go before you play the next note. Jazz in particular requires this idea of anticipation or feeling. And nothing beats that feeling when you’re playing along with other phenomenal musicians. Elements of musicianship (anticipation in particular) are deeply rooted in the fundamentals of product creation and leadership.

So what’s anticipating?  Experience something enough that you can glean what’s coming next, before it happens.  The more experience you gain, the more you can anticipate in anything you do. Anticipation cuts both ways.  I anticipate this is going to work.  I anticipate this is going to stink horribly.  Our aim is positive anticipation and preemptive habits for the negative.

Anticipating in product design drives individual team members to stretch their skills, ask great questions, learn and take risks. You’ll never master this but perpetual trying makes us stronger. Anticipation brings a natural feel to team dynamics and product delivery. As a product owner encourage anticipation by:

Knowing your team’s experience and using it

I practiced percussion until I bled. Not as a metaphor, I actually bled.  When you lead a team of any sort, you’ll have seasoned team members who are and better at anticipating (they’ve bled).  Others will be new to the band (no callouses yet). Both new and old have to practice with each other to learn their styles and get comfortable with one another.  They learn to anticipate each other’s playing style. Use the experienced musicians to provide guidance to the newer musicians.

Being consistent and invisible.

You own your product.  Provide teams with consistent environments, messaging and direction.  This doesn’t mean you can’t throw curveballs at the team (on the contrary, that makes things fun – just ask Sales). Continuity in how you act and operate allow a team to concentrate on the product, not on you. This is how strong conductors guide a band.  You see and follow the conductor at all times.  However, they are only conducting AT you when necessary.  Otherwise, there almost secondary as they keep time for everyone and allow continuity with direction. Music and your ears become primary.

Preparing against over anticipation.

If musicians think about what’s coming next too much, they’re not paying attention to now and can often rush or misinterpret the music.  nothing gets done if product team members anticipate too far out in the development and design cycles.  Don’t worry about V3.1 when you haven’t completed 1.2.  Get the intonation of every note correct right now. It is more important than what might happen later.


Practicing allows your mind to be in two places at once.  If I’m used to my part, I can perform almost on muscle memory right now, and anticipate what’s coming a few seconds away.  Practice allows for critical microadjustments. These are critical to my performance in the band.

Practicing also pulls teams together.  Things always breaks.  A team that worked together knows how to tackle challenges. This only comes through learning each other and through practice.

Jazz is steeped in anticipation. Its energy derives from the potential for anything to happen from note to note. Great jazz requires seasoned players who practice together so much that the music becomes less mechanical and more soulful. Great product design requires a team that’s willing to think one step ahead but appreciate what they’re creating now.

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