MIMA - Jason Freid

Finally got to hear Jason Fried (37 Signals) in person.

I know that Jason is controversial and his stance on team size, ways of working are controversial and cannot (I believe) be applied in every situation.

Its a lot like Extreme Programming. Back at Sabre I lead two engineering teams and we were doing full on XP, agile methodology. As long as it was not treated like a religion but was a set of principles to inform your work I found it to be really useful.

Onto the talk. Jason had some great points. Lots of things that I agree with.

Keep your team small

  • Forces you to focus on what's important
  • Clearer communication comes for free
  • "Communication usually fails except by accident"
Collaboration is about communication, not control
  • Keep your team apart. Interruption is not collaboration. Interruption is the enemy of productivity.
  • Encourage alone time
  • Stay away from each other as much as possible
  • Communicate more passively, less actively.
Meetings are toxic
  • Usually a symptom of a problem, not a solution. Mentioned a business leader in Brazil who advocates that all meetings are optional.
  • Meetings convey an abysmally small amount of information per minute
  • Require thorough preparation that people rarely do
  • Tend to procreate
Instead make tiny decisions
  • Decisions are progress
  • Progress is great for morale
So I am a realist. Organizations do grow in size. So you have to work hard at keeping teams small. And we should avoid meetings wherever possible. However (and Jason talks about this) you need to communicate with each other in ways that are least disruptive. Meetings do have to happen (Jason is not saying never have a meeting... just they are very infrequent and really are more working sessions).

In different teams I have led I have instituted things like "No Meeting Days". No one is allowed to call a meeting on those days. Or "Work from Home Days". They were all designed to give designers & engineers "flow time". Time to get into the flow of what they are doing and stay there.

If you can have a few hours of non-interrupted productivity it is amazing what you can accomplish. I have had people remark at my crazy "weekend projects". What happens is I get off by myself, no interruptions, no IM, no email and just get into the flow of what I am working on. That zone is the same thing a runner feels with they get that "glow", the groove of running.

Jason talked about the power of REM sleep and compared it to REM Work. Uninterrupted flow. What is interesting is I have over the last few years biased toward open office arrangements. I am beginning to rethink this. Why? Its too easy to interrupt your co-workers with trivial stuff that doesn't demand immediate attention. And verbal communication can be very redundant and time consuming.

A couple of months back I was trying to get a lot of stuff done. So instead of checking email every 15 minutes (!) I decided to check once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Man, I cannot tell you how it changed my day. The ability to get into some work without interruption was exhilarating.

If nothing else, Jason's talk was a wonderful reset for me to think how I manage and remember my number one priority is to make those that work for me successful, productive, motivated and appreciated.