The moment you walk into Menlo Innovations, you can sense the atmosphere full of energy, playfulness, enthusiasm, and maybe even . . . joy. As a package-delivery person once remarked, “I don’t know what you do, but whatever it is, I want to work here.”
Every year, thousands of visitors come from around the world to visit Menlo Innovations, a small software company in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They make the trek not to learn about technology but to witness a radically different approach to company culture.
CEO and “Chief Storyteller” Rich Sheridan removed the fear and ambiguity that typically make a workplace miserable. His own experience in the software industry taught him that, for many, work was marked by long hours and mismanaged projects with low-quality results. There had to be a better way.
With joy as the explicit goal, Sheridan and his team changed everything about how the company was run. They established a shared belief system that supports working in pairs and embraces making mistakes, all while fostering dignity for the team.
The results blew away all expectations. Menlo has won numerous growth awards and was named an Inc. magazine “audacious small company.” It has tripled its physical office three times and produced products that dominate markets for its clients.
Joy, Inc. offers an inside look at how Sheridan and Menlo created a joyful culture, and shows how any organization can follow their methods for a more passionate team and sustainable, profitable results. Sheridan also shows how to run smarter meetings and build cultural training into your hiring process.
Joy, Inc. offers an inspirational blueprint for readers in any field who want a committed, energizing atmosphere at work—leading to sustainable business results.
I am grateful for this book. Some partners and I formed a very similar company to Richard at around the same time; he started out Agile whereas we found Agile after a few years of struggle with traditional methods. What Richard describes is music to my ears; Menlo seems to have carried the concepts we embraced much farther than we ever did, and it encourages me that they are still working. It tells me that we need to find ways to push the envelope even more with the way we work in projects and as a company.
So why four stars and not five? I just can't help but feel that Richard is not giving us the whole story. I've worked to a great extent in the way he describes, and he just doesn't seem to indicate the kinds of issues we've had in working that way. He seems to have a story for everything that he believes is right (either an analogy or an anecdote), and leaves you with the impression that should be enough. I know that it's not, and real life is much more complicated than that. He does have a chapter where he talks about problems, but the ones he describes seem minor. It makes me wish he had been more forthcoming and less idealistic.
I found a one-star Amazon review of his book by someone who claimed to be an ex-employee of Menlo. He indicated, among other things, that Menlo frequently had layoff when work wasn't available. I believe this, as it seems consistent with what I know about how he would need to work. This bothers me, and makes me wonder if there are other repercussions to what Menlo has adopted. (There are no mentions of layoffs in "Joy, Inc.")
At any rate, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone in a shared organization. It has principles I believe in, and a group that has discovered they can be successful with them. I think our organization will be taking what they do very seriously, and trying to determine how we can learn from them.
The idea to put employee happiness first in order to make customers happy is not new. What is unusual is the openness with which Richard Sheridan talks about experiments – both successful and failed – that his company ran over the years in pursuit of joy at work.
I don't necessarily agree with every aspect of the Menlo way of working. Nonetheless I've enjoyed every chapter of the book and the stories Richard had to tell.
I'd like however to see more discussion on cultural diversity at Menlo. The book left an impression on me that menlonians are very muck alike. Hopefully the next book will share experiences of dealing with diverse personalities and working habits.
This was a pretty good book about work (and I really wish I could give it a 3.5). It was amazing to read of how the author built a workplace that inspires people to do their best while allowing for family life and encouraging community interaction. I just found it difficult to see how this could be translated into other arenas - I'm pretty sure that it would not work in the hospital I work at; well, at least not for the physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other staff - it might be okay in the administrative side.
There were things that made sense - the visibility of the teams' work, goals, and financials; the rotation of teams to encourage better communication and discourage the concentration of knowledge in just a few, or one, member; and the open work environment to encourage communication. But much of this would not be workable in many industries. It was fun to imagine this type of workplace catching on - people bringing their infants (or dogs and cats) to work, an equality that is rarely seen (the CEO's desk sits in the midst of the rank and file), and short meetings. Sounds like work nirvana.
If you're a programmer who has always dreamed to work at an assembly line type environment -- where you're surrounded by constant noise, do not have your own place to sit and think, have no ownership over any of your code, take turns holding people's babies while you're trying to work; though half the time you're just watching someone else (dual programming) -- and as a bonus, get to work for a CEO who is in love with himself - then submit your resume right away to Menlo Innovations - and definitely read this book!
I didn't enjoy this as much as I hoped I would. With a title like "Joy, Inc" and tagline like "How we built a workplace people love," I expected some big transformation leadership ideas. Instead, I found a tedious and detailed account of software project management tactics and methodologies. Additionally, Sheridan describes the ideal workplace as a "factory." This is hardly a joy-inspiring metaphor. I felt like this was a big bait and switch.
This book was written by Richard Sheridan, co-founder and CEO of MENLO Innovations, a creative software company in Michigan. Sheridan argues for companies to bring joy into the work environment and details how he was able to create one of the ten happiest places to work in the world. This book wasn't so much a fun read as it was very informative of specific processes and recommendations to make a company efficiently joyful.
He has some truly interesting ideas that have managed to mitigate many problems that interrupt workplace joy. For example, all of his staff work collaboratively in an open warehouse-like environment where desks can be rearranged for any given project. Employees always work in pairs, so as to avoid "towers of knowledge" where one person has exclusive knowledge no one else has access to. This allows for people to take time off and for production to keep on moving, should someone leave the company or get sick.
I was really surprised that MENLO allowed for children and pets to be brought into the work enviornment- how cool! He also uses other cool strategies like high-speed voice messaging rather than email, hand-written project task cards to prevent scope creep, and a quick "morning stand up" to briefly discuss what everyone is working on that day.
One of my favorite things that Sheridan mentioned was his disdain for "Brook's Law". This concept in the tech industry is generally defined as the idea that "adding manpower to a late software project makes it later". It is often translated into meaning that "new hires cost more to onboard than can contribute". Sheridan discusses his open and efficient hiring and onboarding process that helps debunk this myth. Job candidates are interviewed in mass interview sessions that happen only a few times per year. They are given tours and made to observe the work environment to ensure they are a good fit with the culture. They then are hired for a trial period and essentially audition for their part in the company.
All in all, I am so impressed with MENLO's dedication to creating a joyful company and wonder how these strategies can be adapted to fit other businesses.
“A company doesn’t exist to serve its own people; a company exists to serve the needs of the people who use its products or services.”
“Every organization needs to make room for the time or effort a person needs for his or her personal life, and the dividends of this effort are not measured in business terms.”
Sheridan's approach really boils down to letting people's lives not be overrun by work and getting rid of the fear of failure at work. One of the most memorable things Sheridan talked about in his presentation was parents being able to bring their babies into the office if they had childcare problems. This blew me away. It started when an employee was ready to come back to work after maternity leave and her childcare fell through. Since then, other parents have been able to have their babies 'work' at Melo as well. As far as eliminating fear, Sheridan has found ways to let his teammates be honest about the problems they are running into so they're not afraid to say something's behind or more difficult than anticipated. This creates better feedback for customers and a better understanding of their timelines and gives the teams adequate time to work on their work.
I liked how Sheridan described the ways his team overcame difficulties and how there were problems he was still working to solve. It started to seem like his company was nearly perfect. At the end, he addressed this and talked about how the company overcomes them methodically and in a way that lets them not be afraid when something new comes up.
Sheridan talked about how other companies would visit Menlo and how they can implement their ways in other industries. However, the only example he gave of this being affectivly done was in the IT group of an insurance company. I wish he'd given more examples of how parts of his model had been adopted for other industries and types of work. How would it work in manufacturing, where I am?
In a time when technology is having people work what seems like 24/7, Sheridan's message is a breath of fresh air. People are dreading work time and long hours to meet deadlines, especially in tech industries. Sheridan shows how small changes can make people happier and how to experiment and try new things to see how they go. Bringing Joy to work seems like a crazy concept until he explains in this book.
I love a book that makes me think, and this is definitely one. From the way he tells it Rich Sheridan has done a great job of building a strong business, but more importantly a fantastic culture. His people are happy. On the back of reading this book I'm more sure that's what we should do at Forward Partners and more ambitious for how good that can be.
My key takeaways: - Pair work sounds amazing, but may be hard to implement working for startups like we do given cost constraints. I believe the argument about true cost being lower but not sure it's right for us to try and make that stick with founders. But I would love to try it sometime/somehow. - I have been sold on the importance of psychological safety for a few years now, but Rich gave me a deeper understanding of what that means and how to make everyone feel safe in every corner of our business. As a result it's in my mind much more often.
The story about Menlo and its unique work style and culture is definitely worth sharing. The personal story telling format makes it a fascinating and easy read that makes you wonder how you can integrate pairing and other practices into your own work. What I am missing is a frame or mental model that provides context and guidance.
Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love by Richard Sheridan This book tells the story of Menlo Innovations, the software service company that the author serves as founder and CEO. The book describes the value, operating principles, and success of the company from various angles. Fundamentally, the book promotes three practices. • Open space. All employees, including the CEO, share a common workspace without walls. The primary communication tool is “rapid voice system,” which sounds like an audio broadcast to all computers. They also have stand-up meetings every day to catch up with status. • Paired working. Programmers and program managers are assigned to work in pairs. People switch between tasks and pairs every week. The main advantage is flexibility: since people are familiar with all parts of the program, it is easy to allocate manpower in response to situation changes. It further provides opportunities for everyone to learn new techniques through buddying with more experienced workers. • Storyboard planning. Use physical cards to record subtasks and required manpower. Fit these cards to a storyboard to represent resource allocation. Mark the cards with various symbols to indicate status (such as on the track, need help, etc.) The advantage of the storyboard is transparency in planning, to the planners, workers, and customers. It avoids overcommitting and reveals potential critical paths early in the game. According to the forewords, the author was persuaded to change the title of the book from “Taking Change” to “Joy, Inc” to highlight the uniqueness of his book in vision and value. However, notwithstanding the word “joy” being invoked numerous times in the book, I have difficulty seeing “joy” as the central theme. The author links his business practice to “joy” in two ways: what they produce brings or increases joy to the end-users, and their working environment enables the employees to work with joy. The first aspect is trivial. Any product is aimed at satisfying certain needs of its user; otherwise it won’t have a market. Therefore, any product brings some kind of “joy” to its user. While the book did talk about their emphasis on users as human beings (their “high-tech anthropologists” performs such function), it is not a significant part of the book (one of the 15 chapters at most). While “high-tech anthropologist” may be an original name, considering human user factors is a common, if not ubiquitous, practice in the industry. For the second aspect, the majority of the book talks about the working process of empowering workers. The book also talks about “sustainable workforce,” which means not relying on any individual of the project, so that everyone can have the freedom of vacation and taking time off to take care of personal matters. The author also boasts their policy of no-overtime working culture. While these are all very good, the book does not talk about other aspects of making work more enjoyable. For example, in his best-seller “Drive,” the author Daniel Pink pointed out three elements for internal motivation: autonomy, a proper level of challenge, and meaning. The working arrangements promoted by this book is the antithesis of autonomy. A worker cannot choose what he will work on (his task changes every week), whom he will work with (his partner changes every week), and how he will work (he must reach consensus with his partner on methodology to work so closely together). Since Pink was identified as a favorite author in this book, it is curious that no discussions on that issue were provided. Also, while this book is convincing on the benefits of the working model it promotes, it does not address the costs sufficiently. For the open workspace, there are many pieces of research showing it hurts productivity (see, for example, deep work by Newport). The paired working environment basically pays two people for one task. It may also hinder innovation as one cannot experiment very far without the consent of his partner. The storyboard planning adds significant overhead to the workflow. Not only people need to spend time every day to update status to the whole team, frequent formal process of adjusting manpower allocation would also consume a lot of effort from the program managers. The weekly “show and tell” further requires more time from the client. Such a rigid task management system may also hinder innovation because any change in work plan carries a potential cost to the management. The book discussed these issues dismissively. People can naturally tune out irrelevant conversations in an open workspace, and noisy environment inspires innovation. Paired workers increase cost but improve quality by checking each other’s work. Storyboard planning and weekly show and tell are welcome by the clients. While I do not intend to dispute the success of Menlo Innovation as described by the book, I have problem viewing such success as a vindication of their working model, without knowing more about the cost-benefit calculus, preferably at a quantitative level. Therefore, I am not confident that the same ideas will work in a particular working environment. Overall, this book offers a unique angle of looking at the workplace. It’s fascinating to read as it contains many stories and flows very nicely. However, be careful if you want to treat it as a textbook for a revolutionary management style, as the book claims to be. The detailed summary follows. Introduction Why Joy ● Scope: promoting joy in the workplace: the intentional culture of joy, including all work processes and management practices. ● The business value of joy: it is possible to create a joyful culture, spread joy to customers and partners, and do it while profiting. A joyful workforce is more productive and can create better products. ● Joy at the personal level: the sense of fulfillment and achievement ● Joy is long-term, while happiness is short-term. A joyful workplace also has unhappy moments. The energy of tension and frustration are channeled towards enhancing the joyful environment. 1 My Journey to Joy ● Started as a computer prodigy with passion, and had a very successful early career, rising to high-level management. However, was disillusioned by the state of the IT industry, where poor products and gloomy workers are the norms. ● Started the change when leading an R&D team by introducing extreme programming that breaks down old organizational boundary, all the way to separate offices. ● Key to change: when moving away from the old rewarding system, quickly install the alternative one. ● Later on, the company was sold and subsequently closed down when the dot com bubble burst. Started the new company Menlo Innovations, with the mission of creating and spreading joy through software work. 2 Space and Noise ● Open space and portable work stations break down the barrier of communication. ● Noise at the workplace inspires innovation ● Many are doubtful that open space workplace can maintain high productivity. But results show it can be done. 3. Freedom to Learn ● “Paired” working system: two people working to the same tasks, using the same computer. The pair lasts a week or two, then people are switched. ● Paired working is a good way to learn. People share knowledge about tools and systems. Workers are not specialized to a particular programming language or skill. They have the opportunity to learn everything and use the best option for a particular job. ● Paired working knocks down the “knowledge tower,” where a particular knowledge resides with only one person. With such a system, multiple people know about any part of the work. ● In addition to paired working, we encourage other forms of leaning, such as lunch talks where staff members teach each other about things they find interesting or useful. 4. Conversations, Rituals, and Artifacts ● We encourage informal conversations though the “rapid audio” system, which is basically an audio broadcast system. One-on-one or small group meeting can be ad hoc with such a system. ● Such a system won’t disturb other workers as people have the ability to tune out on unrelated conversations. ● The key is allowing communication through voice, facial expressions, and body language. The typical office email communication deprives all the other channels. ● Rituals are also a good way to promote communications. They use morning standup meeting for everyone to report status. And they use a helmet as the token to show who has the floor. ● Artifacts provide visual cues that people are sensitive to. The most notable artifact at Menlo is the story card. They are cards that record each task and the estimated resource requirement. The card has to be placed on the board to show that the task is approved to be done. The board shows the total resource allocation to make sure we are not overcommitted or under-committed. There are various makes on the card to show the status of the task: it is progressing well, or need extra help, or waiting for more information, etc. 5. Interviewing, Hiring, and Onboarding ● Staffing is more about cultural compatibility rather than skill set. It is always easy to teach someone new skills if he is culturally fit. ● Menlo uses “extreme interviewing,” which throws the applicant into real working, to be paired with Menlo staff on a project. This is the best way to see how they would fit in. ● After such interviewing, onboarding is easy. By pairing, the new staff can quickly learn about the project, unlike most companies where new employees would spend weeks or months before someone gives them enough information to work effectively. ● We do fire people from time to time, and people also move on. We treat every employee with dignity. So goodwill remains regardless of the reason for parting. 6. The Power of Observation ● We believe that in order to make good software, we must understand users as people. So in Menlo, we have “high-tech anthropologists,” whose job is observing how users perform the tasks related to our software, to find guidance on how to make the most helpful software. ● The first important thing is identifying a “typical user,” who comes with a lift story. Software must have a primary user group and secondary user groups. Personalities and skill steps of these users drive the feature and interface designs. Menlo anthropologists often discover user traits that are unknown to the clients. ● We frequently build prototypes with cards, duct tapes, and other cheap articles to show our design to the clients. This way, we can collect feedback in time for product improvement. Low tech artifacts work better than computer programs for this purpose. 7. Fight Fear, Embrace Change ● Don’t manufacture fear. Change through experiments. ● Anyone can propose ideas and design experiments to test them out. If the experiments do not work out, just move on. No blame. 8. Growing Leaders, Not Bosses ● Leaders are positive. They show ways to do things. ● We give people opportunities to lead and encourage people to step up, regardless of their titles. ● We don’t want bosses who monopolize the decision process. They are usually obstacles against progress. 9. End Chaos, Eliminate Ambiguity ● All decisions are made through a process and formally recorded. The story card is an example. We have similar ways to determine schedule and priority. ● We frown upon “hallway management,” where decisions are made through informal discussions. In these situations, people often understand the decisions in different ways, hindering effectiveness. 10. Rigor, Discipline, Quality ● The pairing system forces a precision in the development process because the partners double-check each other's work and must articulate reasoning when making a decision. ● We adopt a practice that before writing code, one must first write an automated test program. This eliminates many potential bugs. It also makes maintenance much easier, as any future modifications can be tested by the same test code. ● Even after unit testing, system integration can still reveal problems. Pairing helps, as developers are familiar with all parts of the system and have consistency in mind. Nonetheless, we need to plan for enough time and resource for the final integration. 11. Sustainability and Flexibility ● We promote work-life balance not by providing remote work options, but by providing a clear boundary between work and life. ● Paring means we don’t depend on any particular person. So people’s vacation schedule does not need to be driven by work demands. ● We offer 4 weeks of vacation to new employees and allow unlimited carry-over. ● We expect staff members to work 40 hours a week, no overtime. They use time cards to track working time and can allocate between the days to accommodate personal affairs. ● We do provide remote work options for people who have to stay home for some reason. They can still pair and be present at meetings through video conferencing. ● In general, however, we believe it is more effective when people work in physical space. Such an arrangement also prevents work from sneaking into people’s private lives. ● The company remains flexibility by having a reserve of the workforce. They work on internal projects but can be called upon when client need surges. Our streamlining hiring process and our fast onboarding process also means we can increase the number of employees quickly in response to demand surge. 12. Scalability ● Paring provides effective ways to add people into a project: they act as the “learning” in pairs and ramp up quickly. ● Scaling down is also easy because there is no knowledge tower. Anyone can leave without impacting the projects. ● People also leave the company freely, and many come back at a later time. We deal with such cycling with friendliness. 13. Accountability and Results ● In Menlo, accountability is circular: everyone needs to respect the accountability culture. ● An example is the planning process. The workers propose an estimate on the hours needed for a task, which drives the planning process. If something happened and extra hours are required, everyone, including the client, is informed and the plan is adjusted. There is no punishment for the workers who change the estimate. ● One benefit of such a culture is honesty. The workers have no reason to pad their estimate, so the planning can be done accurately. ● The other benefit is motivation. Since you are the one who offered the promise, you are motivated to fulfill it. ● Clients are accountable by involving in every step of the development process. They help to determine the priorities, where budget and time constraints are presented to them plainly and accurately. And status reports clearly show information client owes hinder the progress. The frequent report also avoids any surprises on cost and schedule at the end. ● Weekl
If you are interested in learning about Agile organizations and how they build capabilities that have made their teams effective, this is a good read.
There are some ideas illustrated in the book that didn't age well. One of them is why working collocate promotes higher team engagement. After Covid-19, we have learned new approaches to collaborating even in a distributed environment.
Pair programming, continuous customer feedback, contracts where providers and customers share the risk of success, and smaller batch sizes are concepts introduced by the author.
It was nice to return to my days at Plataformatec, an organization that had almost Menlo's ways of working.
Richard Sheridan and his partner have dared to act on the belief that man is a being that in and of himself possesses a moral conscience, which springs from his original and essential character, and which his human nature requires. I am paraphrasing the 18th century Radicalists (and Shari’ati). Too melodramatic? I don’t think so, and I have studied businesses (and the human condition) for a lot of years.
The only arguments against Joy, Inc. are that man must be controlled because he is incapable (or unwilling) to control himself, and his interactions with others also must be controlled. And those are sad arguments.
Joy, Inc. and Menlo Innovations are on the fledgling forefront of the future of business, and all human collaboration, for that matter.
Imagine Edison trying to explain the potentialities of the lightbulb to anxious, “pragmatic” investors, and you will experience what Sheridan and his believers experience on a regular basis.
Imagine Hewlett Packard (HP) asking Jobs and Wosniak “Why would anyone want a computer in their home?” How you would struggle to answer that question from the vaunted experts who pitied your fragile dreams?
Am I being too grandiose? This is just a little group of computer programmers trying to survive in Ann Arbor, Michigan? Did I mention that Edison was from Port Huron, Michigan and his buddy Henry Ford was from Dearborn, Michigan?
This was a very encouraging read. Sheridan finds me to be a like-minded vocational hedonist. If I am going to spend thousands of hours at work each year I want to enjoy this time. There are two factors that distinguish this book from the typical leadership book. First, Sheridan is in the trenches and is actually working as CEO of Menlo Innovations. Second, he convinced me that he actually had helped create this joyful work culture at Menlo. The proof is in the pudding.
The major lessons I will take away include the following. People find joy in their work when they feel like they are doing something meaningful. Leaders are responsible for giving an inspiring vision and making clear the company's expectations that will help meaningful things get done. Menlo achieves this transparent clarity with their Work Authorization Board. By no means novel, I was still reminded of the need for organizations to "make mistaks faster." Prototype effectively to find ways to improve the company. Sheridan writes in a way that reflects the type of leader he is at Menlo. Transparent, self-effacing, passionate and driven towards excellence.
I would recommend the reading of this book for anyone seeking joy and fulfillment in their work.
I really liked Joy, Inc. You get to look into the world of a company who broke "the rules" of business to build an organization that people really want to work for and with.
The sad reality is that most of us may never have the opportunity to work for a truly joyful company. I don't think that the textbooks are ready to be rewritten to include the word "Joy" into their vocabulary and I think we are still several years/decades from (if ever) from Wall Street embracing this thinking as a business success story. For many of us Joy, Inc will bring day dreams and fantasy about what it would look like if we were in that organization. But like all dreams they will not become reality unless you take action to do something.
I think the one thing that leaders, at any level, can take away is there are things in your organization that you can do today to bring workers enjoyment. In lean circles we refer to this as respect for people/humanity. In that sense I think the author's book is practical and usable by all. Small steps can bring enjoyment to you and others.
Hvis man gerne vil arbejde med arbejdsglæde i softwarebranchen, så kan man vist ikke komme udenom den her. Groft sagt kan man sige at der er tre hovedtemaer i eet i den her: hvordan Menlo laver software, hvordan Menlo bygger kultur og hvordan Menlo laver god forretning. Pointen er naturligvis at det altsammen ikke bare hænger sammen, men faktisk ER det samme. Selve softwaremetoden er lidt weird 98% Scrum uden at det iøjnefaldende overlap nogensinde bliver nævnt. Men det gør ikke den store forskel, det er fornuftige agile principper med fokus på eksperimenter og det virker som om det virker. Masser af gode og inspirerende takes på klassiske problemstillinger i softwareland: rekruttering, ressourcestyring/op-og-nedskalering, marketing, kontrakter, kunderelationer, forfremmelser og meget andet. Det er en glad bog skrevet af en MEGET stolt virksomhedsejer :) Go read.
This is a really good business book. Since it outlines exactly how their business model works, there were fewer principles for me to glean. I loved all the "low-tech" processes (paper, tape, the human voice)they used, especially since they are a software company. Their solution to scope or project creep helped me think about how I plan my time. They have a large square drawn on paper or poster that represents the 40 hour work week. They have cards that are folded to represent the number of hours that project should take. They fill the square with cards that add up to equal 40 hours. If the project manager wants to add something, the team makes a card for the new task and asks what he wants to remove to make space in the square. "Make mistakes faster" is also a fun principle.
Richard is a man on a mission to bring joyful leadership to organisations worldwide. He is inspiring readers with his unique insight on why joy in an organisation is not just possible but essential: essential to profitability, to productivity, to every measure of success. Richard is such a wonderful and inspiring person. I was very happy to learn from his insights and speak with him on my podcast Inside Ideas. To see the video-podcast episode 55 click and subscribe here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLV7x...
Richard Sheridan and his colleagues at Menlo Innovations have built one of the best places to work in the world -- and it's a software company. The respect, clarity, and fairness of the culture they have created mean that Menlo regularly wins "best company" awards and gets visitors from all over the world studying them to see how its done. And of course the irony is that simple human decency is at the base of their success. It shouldn't be rocket science. It shouldn't take a genius. Then why is it so hard for so many to do what Sheridan and Corps have done?
Lots of culture elements and processes from Agile. But here you can find information about: - pair programming and it stunning cosequences for quality and knowlege sharing - very poverfull description of fear which kills willingnes for changes, and it`s the main reason of unsuccesfull end of the projects with heavy losses - and genius win-win position when clients can pay for 50% of work with royalty, and people who works on creation of this product can use 50% of their salary to by that royalty.
This is one relatively small software developer's approach to creating engagement at work. There are some good ideas in here for how to manage software projects in a pair-programming and agile environment, and I think those are the strongest parts of the book. But there's definitely some evangelistic fervor for this one right way of working that feels misplaced and out of touch. This is one book that did not age well at all as a result of the pandemic, because the author insists that WFH can't and won't work for this system.
Its wonderful to see the Menlo Innovations story in a book. Rich, James, Bob and team have built a very special company that is worth our attention. I highly recommend reading the story of how they put joy at the top of their corporate mission. And I highly recommend signing up for a tour of their factory (in Tally Hall on Liberty). It will change the way you think about "the office".
Some part felt too good to be true, it felt like there's more to it than how it was portrayed. Others are just hands-down insightful (fear being a mind-killer, how they deal with problems, experiments). I read this with a grain of salt: taking what's useful to me, ignoring what my gut tells me to ignore.
Reads more like a PR press release or company prospectus. Interesting subject, but I'm very sceptical about the implementation details. I suspect these folks stumbled into a good place and continue to stumble around.
I normally avoid tech evangelist books written by CEOs using their life and company as models for changing the world. But when I saw there were 12 copies in my company's library, I decided I should at least read one so I can have an informed and passionate debate with other people who read it. To my surprise, I finished this book to completion in less than 24 hours, finding myself in agreement with many of the concepts presented.
Joy is organized into fifteen chapters and pivots between implementations of company practices and flashbacks of a more personal nature. After all the book title includes joy, so it makes sense that Richard Sheridan mentions his family and personal visions.
Some of the themes he touches upon are flat hierarchies, fast failure/embracing change, scaling up (and down).
Things Menlo Innovation does that software companies should adopt:
Pair programming to break down dependencies on human towers of knowledge. A tower is someone whom the company depends on, because they create code that no one else touches or can decipher i.e Rock Star developers. Pair programming makes on-boarding a fun and smooth process allowing new people to experiment and be productive from day one. Scheduling vacations becomes a pleasure and allows employees to recharge and do what they love, while the rest of the empowered team performs at peak capacity. The processes they have should be shaped by company values. Especially when things go bad, people should fall back on predefined processes. Instead, often the opposite happens, people avoid process and the whole point of process becomes mute.
Menlo realized that measuring retention rates of employees was the wrong way of measuring happiness. Unhappy engineers might stay in the company until an event triggers all of the engineers to depart at once (such as an economic crisis) while happy engineers may want a temporary break but are afraid to ask for one. Menlo instead embraces A Birdcage without Bars. Engineers are welcome to leave (or be dropped when it's not a good match), and they are also welcome to come back. Sometimes a positive experience or learning opportunity in between changes the perspective of an employee.
Interesting concepts at Menlo:
While they do create digital backups, the entire workflow and ticket creation itself is done via paper. Origami/Fibonacci paper to be specific. Tickets that take up 32 hours a week are given a full sized sheet. Tickets taking 16 hours are folded, and 8 hours folded again etc.. So no matter what combination 32 hours worth of work fits on a sheet of paper. It creates a very transparent process for the company, as well as the client. The other 8 hours a week are allocated for daily stand ups (12 minutes a day or one hour a week), ticket estimations and weekly performance reviews. Meetings are largely eliminated in favor of more spontaneous/enjoyable communication. No matter how big or small, each engineer should be able to complete one ticket/project all the way to the end each week, so that they can feel like they accomplished something. That adrenaline kick is important for health and joy of the company.
Confessions of the author
While making joyful products has been at the center of their software agency they struggled with finding time/effort to apply that passion to their internal tools. They also did not find a real sustainable promotion or mentorship system. While they're flexible and adamant about putting people over process, long term they did not find great solutions for remote collaboration. Their success is predicated upon a shared physical space for the most part.
Since I am on the verge of setting up my first company, I was tempted to read “Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love“ to build a company culture where everyone loved to come to work. Richard Sheridan, CEO of Menlo Innovations, a small software company in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has successfully strived to create a culture filled with ”Joy“ which has garnered praise from all around the world.
Richard has attempted to explicate these stories regarding his company’s culture and how it increases productivity rather than hamper it. Menlo Innovations encourages the concept of working in pairs and a number of scenarios are explained where their client is dissatisfied that they are paying for the work of two people when a single person can do the work and Menlo always manages to satisfy them at the end. Richard busts the myth that constant shuffling of employees to work on a project reduces productivity and increases complexity. By pairing his employees and with constant rearrangement among different pairs, the information and knowledge of every project are shared equally by all the employees, thereby hindering the rise of “ A tower of knowledge” where every decision has to go by a single person causing delay of critical decisions.
The company has embraced a paper based process planning and estimation system and I believe that although it sounds cooler and easier on paper, it requires plenty of training and may become chaotic for larger projects involving more number of people. The author has mentioned repeatedly that Menlo Innovations charges a higher fee compared to its competitors in lieu of unparalleled customer service. However, I suspect that this book was written as a marketing tactic just to spread word of his company’s culture, system and working and to attract more customers. Ideally, this atmosphere or culture is almost impossible to replicate in majority of the industries.
Despite this, it was fun to imagine an office setup like this - people bringing their infants (or dogs and cats) to work, the CEO's desk sitting in the midst of the rank and file, and short meetings, 40 hour weeks, flexible timings, etc.
Some of the interesting things mentioned in the book are as follows:
1. High Speed Voice Technology
The company discourages the use of emails for communication within themselves, and each conversation starts with one person calling out “Hey *insert receiver’s name*!” thus reducing any time lags caused due to mails.
2. Show and Tells
Richard has adopted a weekly show and tell with the clients just to ensure that all of them are on the same page regarding the project. This idea is much appreciated as it mitigates any costly error or misfit during the final stages.
3. Start with Why
The author asks us to question ourselves as to why we have started this company or why have we adopted this system, and write down honest answers. This gives us a better idea on how to proceed further and reach our goal.
Please note that my reviews aren't really review, they are more like my cliff notes that I take while reading books.
Menlo Innovation is a small tech firm in Ann Arbor (been there) Michigan.
Their mission, "end human suffering in the world as it relates to technology"
Being an Active learning organization strengthens our team and make them more valuable to Menlo and our clients. Sustaining and enhancing our ability to share our message with one another and with those outside the company is central to our culture.
Sports teams have routines they go through to establish rigor and disciple. The best teams are dedicated to these routines not just with their bodies but with their souls. The mediocre just pay lip service. The difference can be seen and felt This leads to long-term sustainability of a culture and an organization.
Our system supports accountability without fear, ambiguity, or intimidation. They don't punish for low estimates or reward those who come in early or do "hero" work. Most accountability breaks down when existing systems are ignored or worked around to get the "real" work done. In their culture, working around the system actually takes more time than not following the process. Transparency helps reinforce this because everyone knows what everyone else is supposed to be working on, so any changes will be noticed.
Capturing stories and retelling them often reinforces your culture as the outside world will want to peak in and see it.
Challenge - write down your vision. 5 years from today (exact date), describe what is happening in your life (in and out of work).
I took away about a dozen book recommendations and was happy to see that I'd already reach a handful of his recommendations including June's book "The Innovator's Dilemma"