February 15, 2010

News & Opinion: Rework

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 3:39 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

In 1999, Jason Fried was one of the founders of 37signals - then a web design firm, and now a software development company. That transition occurred when the small company found challenges in keeping track of all the project components and information. They developed an in-house software program to help keep things organized, and it worked. So well, in fact, that building those types of products became the company's focus, and the rest is history.

Fast forward to 2010 and Jason Fried and business partner David Heinemeier Hansson have written a book called Rework. The book tells a lot about their philosophy - much of which was learned throughout the process of changing their business to more closely address their client's needs. This isn't just a book about changing your business, it's about changing how you think about business, and is, perhaps, one of the most important books you'll read this year. Whether you're admin or CEO, there are many things to learn, and this book offers some great insight into how we all can waste less time, offer people more value, and accomplish things we've not yet imagined.

I did a brief Q&A with Jason in advance of the book, posted below. Even these few answers reflect the type of clarity, purpose, and down-to-earth approach that the book reveals in greater detail. Check it out, pre-order the book for your whole team, and watch what happens. It's going to be a great year.

What are some of the ways that "big" can work against a company and their ideas?

Big means too many layers. Big means an idea never happens because it needs to be approved by the whole chain of command. Big means a customer request goes to support but never gets heard by the people who actually make the product. Big means everything gets filtered by committees and lawyers so you wind up sounding like a robot instead of a human. Big means lots of documentation and planning (i.e. guessing) instead of reacting just in time.

Most importantly, big makes it hard to change. Look at the physical world. The more massive an object, the more energy is required to change its direction. It's a lot easier to turn around a speedboat than an aircraft carrier.

How is spam more than just an email issue?

Spam is a way of thinking. It's an impersonal, imprecise, inexact approach. You're merely throwing something against the wall to see if it sticks. You're harassing thousands of people hoping that a couple will respond.

Press releases are spam. Each one is a generic pitch for coverage sent out to hundreds of journalists you don't know hoping that one will write about you.

Resumés are spam when someone shotguns out hundreds at a time to potential employers. They don’t care about landing your job, they just care about landing any job.

Spam is basically a half-ass way of getting someone's attention. It's insulting, really.

A much better route: Be personal. Call someone. Or write a note. If you read a story about a similar company or product, contact the journalist who wrote it and pitch them with some passion. If you want a job, write an amazing cover letter that explains why you'd love to work there.

Don't rely on the shotgun approach of spam though. If you invest nothing in your interactions, you probably won't get much back.

If companies don't have meetings, how can they make sure to have everyone understand what the goals, ideas, and project details are?

This is assuming meetings are the only way you can communicate. If so, you need to rethink the way you do business.

We're based in Chicago but we have employees in Idaho, Canada, Spain, England, and other places too. We stay on the same page by using passive communication tools, like Campfire or Basecamp. These tools and things like email don't require an instant reply. They don't require everyone to drop what they're doing and run to the conference room. They let people respond when it’s convenient for them.

That said, an occasional meeting or phone call can be helpful. The problem comes when you rely on them for everything. Then you're just wasting the day.

How and when does productivity best happen?

When there are no interruptions. Interruptions are the enemy of productivity. The modern workplace has become an interruption factory. A meeting here, a conference call there. Before you know it you don't have a work day anymore, you have a series of fragmented work moments.

Great work requires long stretches of uninterrupted time. That's why many people get their best work done early in the morning, late at night, or on the weekends. It's the only time they aren't interrupted.

Culture might not be something that can be created, but can it be changed?

Absolutely. Culture is the by-product of consistent behavior. Change your behavior and you change your culture. Directives, announcements, declarations, missions statements - that's all crap. SAYING something doesn't change culture. The only thing that changes culture are repeated, consistent actions.