Carlos Leyva

Silicon Stories

Chapter 4: Movie Making & Software Development

The Story

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In the movie business a great screenplay is everything. A great director, and great performances, will do little to improve a poor script. The result of a poor script is almost certainly guaranteed to be a bad movie. Even though writers often feel that they do not get the credit they deserve, everyone in Hollywood recognizes their importance.

It starts with the written word—it’s a familiar dictum, but somehow it keeps getting forgotten along the way. No filmmaker, irrespective of his bag of tricks, can ever forget his commitment to the written word.

—Steven Spielberg, director/producer

You must create the story that your software will render in silicon, before you ever write a line of code, before you gather requirements, before creating a project plan. It must be written in quality prose and enjoyable to read. It must then be vetted with all the stakeholders that will help deliver it: management, product marketing, product development, trusted customers and peers, etc.

If you cannot sell the story to these stakeholders then real customers will never buy it, because it will never ship, or if it does, you might well wish that it hadn’t. The story is the shared vision that the cast must believe in and are signing up to commit their creative energies toward. To be sure, it will evolve over time, but as it does the entire cast must be brought along with it.

Rarely have I seen the marketing story and the silicon story aligned in a manner required for successful execution. Organizations that behave as if these two stories are separate will continue to produce less than desirable results (b-movies), and will, more often than not, bring to market products that are complete disasters at the box office. The marketing story and the silicon story are one and the same, and must be treated as such from the project’s onset.

The Studio

Let’s explore the movie studio; in combination with a production house, as a metaphor for a business entity that organizes the production and distribution of stories-in-silicon. The creation of blockbuster stories-in-silicon is increasingly becoming a game of high stakes poker. The graphic below depicts how Hollywood has dealt with the disintegration of what was once a completely vertically integrated industry.

I believe that in the very near future the software industry will begin to migrate to a similar model. Why is that? On the surface there are many similarities that are already apparent. Increasingly many of the players that participate in the software market are freelancers. On any non-trivial project you are likely to find freelance developers, technical writers, graphics artists, and a host of other supporting cast members.

The major difference is that Hollywood has taken this model much further up the business and creative food chain. In Hollywood the producers and directors are highly influential hired guns that often make or break the financial success of any given project. However, the studios and their investment partners own the properties, and because they ultimately supply the money and take the lion’s share of risk, get the last word as to what ultimately gets produced.

Corporations that are in the business of producing stories-in-silicon would probably benefit enormously from adapting a somewhat analogous model. They do not necessarily need to be in the creation business, what they need to do is manage the packaging, branding and the distribution of the resulting properties. Although this model leaves them in control of the business, they will only be successful to the degree that they can build effective working relationships with the best available creative talent.

The major difference from this model and today’s predominant software model is that most organizations continue to be vertically integrated with respect to software creation and production. The economic forces that have created the Free Agent Nation are likely to become even more powerful going forward. The result will be that often the best available creative talent will be more available outside of your organization than within it.

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