Joy, Inc. How We Built a Workplace People Love
By Richard Sheridan
This book has been on my list for a year and a half since my Scrum Master teacher, Jim Smith, suggested it. Jim used to always say, “Wouldn’t you like to work in a place like this?”
I’m not sure how to describe this book. I believe it is a game changer. Many books appeal to the head. This one appeals to the heart and soul. It describes the journey of a man whose traditional workplace had destroyed his love for software development and how he was able to find it again and then build a company (Menlo) that others would love based upon the principle of having joy in ones’s work.
In a cynical world where people believe touchy-feely stuff is weird (and just doesn’t work), Rich and his company of Menlonites have proven everyone wrong. I feel this book’s concepts and testimony could be a foundation for creating much needed change in an organization. You don’t start with techniques and tools—you start with culture —the creation of something intentional. You change people’s hearts before you change their minds. You allow them to work with pride and find much needed joy to find organizational excellence and success. This book shows what is possible.
Here are some of my favorite takeaways:
- Rich has been on a couple of podcasts I’ve listened to recently (here and here). Something he says that really strikes me, and he says this in the book, is that many people will question him on why joy is so important. He responds– suppose you have a project. Half of the people in the room find joy in their work and the others are not. Which half do you want on your project and why? That’s a powerful argument.
- Culture comes first at Menlo. Always. If the client doesn’t like it and can’t adjust (sometimes they will insist Rich changes things at his company), Rich will respectfully sever ties. That is incredibly gutsy.
- Menlo uses the agile development method Extreme Programming. Rich is a huge proponent of pair programming and advocates it throughout his book. His arguments are strong (he likes the pilot/co-pilot analogy). He even hints of pairing for other positions as well, such as project management. This has certainly made me think.
- Rich explains how they on-board new hires. This was a fascinating chapter. They go through several interviews and its always team participatory—not the traditional interview which Rich describes as two people lying to one another.
- Learning and experimenting are very important to Menlo. They have a ton of books (his employees are constantly reading and asking for more books) and are always trying new things (on a small scale first). This is PDSA/PDCA/Kaizen though he never calls it that.
- Visual management is important. They have note cards all over the wall. He states that this turns off some clients who think this is an indicator of the company not understanding tech. I can certainly relate.
- A lot of this stuff would seem to have Deming’s finger prints all over it, but in a podcast interview Rich said he didn’t realize Deming had said all he did until after the company was formed. Rich spends a chapter on why its important to drive out fear (very Deming-esque), why its important to fail, and to constantly experiment (he gives several examples).
- One section I particularly enjoyed was Rich’s opinion on working remotely. Rich said he doesn’t think there is a replacement for a live, in-person company, with all members working in the same physical location. He compares those working remotely to a long distance relationship and wonders how long that relationship is sustainable. He believes we have fooled ourselves into thinking that remote working is just as productive and effective. I couldn’t agree with Rich more. However, Rich does say his team has done remote working with team members with some success.
- The High Tech Anthropologist position was fascinating to me. These are employees who go out and literally study the customer and how they do their work and how they will interact with the product. This improves the overall quality of the product because its built for the people who are really going to use it based upon observation and evidence. Its just not a bunch of people in a far away building designing a product for what they think the customer will like. Incredible.
- Another thing he talked about is accountability. Menlo’s definition is rooted in human nature and, at Menlo, accountability is giving your best honest answer on how long its going to take to do something, you then trust the estimate, and if one discovers the estimate is wrong– be open and candid about it and adjust. He said he presented this concept to a client and the VP of marketing jumped to his feet and snarled “Bullshit!” The VP then went off on how real accountability was holding people to what they said they were going to do. Rich countered with asking what would happen to Menlo if he took that same strategy. The VP thought for a moment and suddenly changed his demeanor. He said the team would start padding their estimates. He added the project managers would catch this and start trimming. The team would then start lying about actually being done. Quality would go down the drain. There would be support problems. Morale and trust would plummet. “You’d have at Menlo exactly what we have here at our company.” Damn good story.
- Not all is rosy at Menlo. Rich is candid about the problems they have. They still haven’t quite figured out how to promote people, they struggle with how they want to grow. They also haven’t quite figure out how to work with clients who are very far away (because they value face to face interactions). There are other things. All-in-all though, Rich said their problems aren’t as big as other’s.
- The company gives daily tours of their facilities. Thousands of people come to see what the heck they are doing including Toyota, Lean practitioners, school children, business leaders, and Deming disciples.
- Rich noted that at Menlo, emergencies are nearly non-existent. As of the writing of the book, the company’s last emergency was six years prior. This is a testament to the company’s commitment to quality. Amazing.
One thing I wish Rich would have done more is talk more about their struggles and challenges and how they overcame them. Still—this book is pretty incredible. I would absolutely love to tour this company and bring key leaders along with me!
This really is a powerful book. Its not about just theories, but about a real company and how their enlightened paradigms allows them to succeed. I plan on passing this book around our company in the hopes it will create a spark.
You can buy Joy, Inc. here.