No bosses, no juniors – working at Valve

Hi Kalle,

if you haven’t already, it’s now time for you to go and read what might be the most interesting publication in company and workplace culture this year:

The “leaked” Valve handbook for new employees.

There is just too much interesting stuff in here to discuss in one blog post so I’ll probably break this down to a few posts (or we discuss it on the podcast), but here are some highlights:

  • No management – people work on the projects where they feel they can be of most use and move their desks to form groups accordingly.
  • No juniors – only hire extremely competent and driven people at the height of their careers. No costly bringing up of juniors, they have enough attraction as an employer that they don’t need to “grow their own” – they can attract the best within the business.
  • Compensation based on peer review – salaries are based on stack ranking by your co-workers. You make what the guy sitting next to you think you should make based on your contributions.
  • “T-shaped” employees – hire people with a broad range of skills that are also one of the best in their field within a narrow discipline (sounds a bit like The “Jack of all trades” department put into practice!).

Valve also lists what they think they could improve on (mentoring, predicting more than a few months away etc) which is very self-aware of them, could be interesting to discuss as well.

But what are you waiting for – let me know when you read it, can’t wait to discuss it with you (and Jeff)!

And may all your TF2 hats be awesome,

Mattias

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Creating an API to a team – a system developer’s take at company communication

Hey Kalle!

Been a while since I posted here (we should really publish the podcast too btw, need to speak to Jeff about that).

As you know, I’m now working for a really big company (about 18000 employees) and as such I’m but a grain of sand on a large beach of company culture.

However, the part of the company I’m working for used to be a smaller company that was bought and incorporated into the bigger company in a single-brand strategy (i.e. the old company’s name is not used any more etc). It is still a fairly self-contained branch with stable customer relations that was established before the merger and has the application management of a product that has been around since the early 90’s.

So our department is both a part of the rest of the organization, as well as our own ship, and this reflects in our methodology. In some parts we are running some SCRUM, we are looking at Kanban for some of our stuff and we also have a lot of waterfall in a lot of parts as well as some ITIL-inspired roles for application management. On top of this, we also have a delivery excellence process that is instituted by the company as a whole. In short, it’s all a bit of a mixed sallad (one that has both tomatoes and tuna as well as steak and kumquats – yummy!) with each bite tasting slightly different (not very agile-sashimi at all).

Here is our dilemma:

We need to work out a way of working that works for our independent unit given our customers, our products and our staff – while at the same time working together with the large organization we are also a part of in a way that they can understand and appreciate.

The good news is that I feel that it would be accepted to run any kind of methodology internally in our branch as long as it meshed well with the rest of the company and it yielded great results (i.e. we were efficient and very profitable), so it is a great situation for improving our process. However, the key here is how to work together with everyone else in the company in a manner that is efficient for them and for us.

So I thought:

Why not approach this as a system developer and picture our part of the company as a module in a large piece of software?

If we could just provide an API to the exterior world (the rest of the company and our customers) with metrics and ways of communication that is useful and efficient for them, we could pretty much run any kind of internal process as long as it was CPU-efficient (i.e. cost-effective).

This is obviously the opposite of transparency, and it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on the subject. Maybe transparency should be a topic for a future podcast, sometimes I feel that people just don’t want to know and too much transparency might just create confusion as to what they are looking at.

I’ll keep you posted on how this develops – I think my next step will be to map our “interface” in a way similar to how I would map the interface of a module and see if that yields any interesting results.

Thanks for reading all of this (I think I just scored 0/3 on my own scale…), let’s talk soon.

Take care,

Mattias

 

Change for the sake of change

Dear Kalle,

this has long been a pet peeve of mine:

I hate when people (usually managers) want to change the look of the corporate website just to “keep it fresh”. Not better, not improved, just fresh. Without measuring, the best efforts can actually make the website worse than before.

On the other hand, there are arguments that change or attention in itself creates positive results:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawthorne_effect

This can be seen in almost any team implementing agile for the first time – regardless of how bad your early implementation is, the team will become entusiastic enough that it shows in the quality of work produced. However, when this effect dies out eventually as things becomes more settled, the true colors of the quality of your agile implementation will start to show.

Agile methodologies usually combat this effect by embracing constant change and refinement within the methodolgy itself.

However, it would be interesting to switch the entire methodology every three months or so between SCRUM, Kanban, Crystal etc, just to “keep things fresh” and keep the entusiasm going. Food for thought (might be more interesting than practical though).

Until then – keep it fresh,

Mattias

Are you working on a train or on a plane?

Tomorrow I will take the train from Gothenburg to Stockholm with the rest of my department to visit our company HQ.

We ride by train primarily because it is cheaper than flying, but people often say that they like trains because you just get on the thing, find your seat and five minutes later you are on your way. It’s a calm environment (you can even ask to get placed in a silent carriage), you have access to phone, wi-fi internet and power outlets, and more space to stretch out than on a plane. And no disrupting co-workers either. In some ways, it is better than working in your office.

Why don’t people like working on planes then?

Well, for starters you have to get on the damn thing. Travel to an airport that can’t be placed in the middle of the city (unless of course, you fly from Gibraltar – the runway actually intersects the city center and you have to cross it to get from one part to the other, trust me – I’ve been there). Then you wait in line to check in and / or drop your bags, take of your shoes as you go through security (and you have to wait in line for that joyful experience), wait until the staff decides you waited long enough and lets you board the plane, wait in the tunnel to the aircraft since everyone wants to get on at the same time, wait while the guy in front of you struggles for ages stashing his enormous coat and hefty carry-on luggage (which he obviously bribed someone to get onboard, since that thing is massive) in the overhead compartment, only to squeeze into a seat that is slightly too small for comfort.

And then, finally, you get to open your laptop and get to wo…

“Sorry sir, no computers during landing or take-off”.

Ok, pick up your iPhone and…

“Sorry sir, no phones either. You have to turn it off.”

“But I have flight-mode on so it’s not connecte…”

“Doesn’t matter.”

Now sit through a safety demonstration demonstrating things you already know since you heard them a thousand times before – information that you probably never will have use for and if you do you certainly won’t remember to kick off your high heels before you jump down into the inflatable slide since the plane is now on fire and what shoes you are wearing is the least of your concerns right now (and yes, I always fly in high heels).

Takeoff! Now wait for the sign with the seatbelt to switch off. That is your sign that you can now start working. No seatbelt = work. Obviously.

Flip open your laptop, eager to get to work. Discover that you have no wi-fi, you forgot to charge your laptop so it has a whopping 8% power left (and you can’t plug in anywhere since all electricity is obviously used to keep the plane airborne) and you can’t call anyone (or even see if they called you). Now take out your pad and pencil and try to remember what you were supposed to work on, and struggle to remember facts that you could easily find the answer for in your inbox or by Googling if you only had internet access.

Then by divine intervention, mysteriously get into the groove and actually enter a state of flow where you are coming up with some of your best ideas ever (probably because of your retreat-like experience of media isolation on this airplane) – only to be interrupted by a stewardess asking if you want to have some bad coffee or some equally bad tea. Get your cup of useless coffee, look down on your notes trying to gather your thoughts again while chewing on your pencil, give up after five minutes and close your notebook in disgust.

Now, as a thought experiment:

Imagine that the plane is actually your office that is more than an hour away from your home,

the security check is all the times you need to swipe your card or show your tag to get inside,

all the waiting time is the friendly banter with co-workers that takes up half an hour at the beginning of each day,

the safety demonstration is the useless cross-department morning meeting that you have to attend each morning,

your undersized flight seat is your crappy office chair that hasn’t been adjusted to fit your work posture and should really have been replaced three years ago but the company was going through a rough patch that year so the chair budget was scrapped (and then management forgot to put it back in every single year after that),

the rule of no devices during take-off or landing is your company’s outdated IT policy that prevents you from using your iPad at work,

the lack of wi-fi is the routine update that your IT department performed last night that killed your internet access and won’t be solved until 4pm today

and the stewardess is that hypersocial girl from sales that ask everyone if they want to have coffee at 2:15pm each day and you feel obligated to drop everything and get in on the gossip to not get left behind.

So, are you working on a train or a plane?

Goodnight,

Mattias

PS. Next blog post: Snakes on a plane – how to survive in a hostile workplace… 😉

Russian pomodoroulette

Hi Mattias,

I would like to share with you an experiment I performed last Tuesday. Knowing that you too have been using the Pomodoro Technique lately, perhaps this twist will interest you.

This day started like many others with processing of inboxes and grooming of the to-do list. Ending up with a short list of quite differing tasks I felt like no prioritization would make me satisfied, some items where small, some larger and some open ended… I did however find that they could be categorized into three projects. The natural instinct was to leave the digital and move the tasks to three project cards along with more detailed notes and related activities. Great, so I had brought order, I had categories but I had not accomplished anything at all! All three projects felt important but in different ways, all were also open ended or huge, making it even harder.

Here comes the thing. Wanting to work on all projects but incapable to find a way to order or prioritize I gave them each a number from one to three and went over to random.org to get a random number between one and three. I then worked on that project for 25 minutes (one pomodoro), took a break, went back to random.org, worked on whatever project it gave me next …and so on.

The most interesting thing about this process was perhaps that everything became much more fun. It feels a bit silly to admit this, but after each break randomizing to see what’s going to happen next was actually kind of …very exciting. The more boring project even became fun, perhaps because I knew that something else was likely to come in a very short while.

Another thing I found interesting with this was the peace of mind I experienced after accepting a random number generator to make the decisions for me, delegating to random you might call it ;). Worth mentioning might be that these decisions were not important. Somebody once said “Don’t think too much before making reversible decisions…”. I’m now proposing: Don’t think when making decisions; let random.org decide! 😀 …or perhaps a dice.

Well, that was just some random thoughts.

Take care,
Kalle