Scott Berkun has a new book! The Year Without Pants: and the Future of Work. It’s not really about pants, or the lack thereof. It is about the year (and a half) he spent at WordPress.No pants image

Berkun decided if he was going to keep writing and speaking about work and management, he needed to to go back to a company and manage people working– to put his pants on the line. Except WordPress didn’t have hierarchies, or departments, or managers. But they were growing fast, and needed to figure out how to keep doing great work with more people and more business. This is a wonderful problem to have, and the place where many companies completely screw up.

What They Did NOT Do.

  • They did not hire an HR manager.
  • They did not have performance reviews.
  • They did not issue a policy manual.
  • They almost never used email.
  • They almost never had meetings. But when they did, it was to have fun and do actual work.

“In every meeting in every organization around the world where bad behavior is happening, there is someone with the most power in the room who can do something about it. What that person does shapes the culture.”

What They DID Do.

They communicated openly using several technologies. And everything was available for anyone to see, read, or go back to look at if they needed something.

They formed small teams and made someone on the team a leader. The leader’s job, at least the way Berkun lead, was to: 1) keep some perspective on the project and how, when, and whether to finish it; 2) make sure everyone had the resources needed to get the work done; and 3) stay out of the way unless 1 or 2 were required.

It worked. Except when it didn’t. And then Berkun figured out why and what he learned.

The Future of Work

WordPress operates as a completely virtual workplace. Everyone works from wherever they want, or wherever they are. There’s technically an office in San Francisco, but nobody really goes there much.

They have employees all over the world and somehow figure out the timezones.

But the location, gizmos, and tech are not the secret.

Here’s the secret:

“Trust is everything.”
“(I)t’s the small decisions that define a culture.”

And the cultural bet is not on process. It’s on people. So Berkun’s formula for management is:

  1. Hire great people.
  2. Set good priorities
  3. Remove distractions
  4. Stay out of the way

It’s a management recipe I endorse completely. And it was a delight to watch it play out with a fun group of people doing fascinating work, written by someone who cares about words and ideas.

Can it scale?  Can big companies ever run on trust, clarity, and people? Berkun wonders the same thing. But not how to make it big. Rather, how to make it work.

“What good is something that scales well if it sucks?” And, “Why is size the ultimate goal or even a goal at all?”

Maybe that’s the next book.

In the meantime, this one is definitely worth reading for Berkun’s insight and great observations. A few more of my favorites were:

“(T)ruths are discovered by breaking rules: you need to break some to learn which are for show and which ones matter.”

“There are no good metrics for evaluating metrics.”

“Safeguards don’t make you safe; they make you lazy.”

“The bottleneck is never code or creativity; it’s lack of clarity.”

“You should never be religious about methods of any kind.  The only sane way to work is to let the project define the plan. Only a fool chooses tools before studying the job to be done.”

Want More?

Here’s the first chapter free.  Order it here. And now watch the movies trailer:

FTC Disclosure. Berkun sent me an advance digital copy of the book to review, but he didn’t ask me to say nice stuff. I got to talk to him about it when I was in Seattle recently, and he encouraged me to say anything at all. Really, anything. He brought me a copy of the book and signed it, but then someone stole it.  (How cool is that? To have your book stolen the first day it was out) And neither of us bought the beers. (Thanks Dice!) Oh, and I’m still pissed there’s no colophon. But the flaming zombie banana bit almost makes up for it.