While I’m not a fan of the title or cover (for me it would be “The Year in Fleece”), Scott Berkun's The Year Without Pants is a great window into the future of organizations. I believe that organizations will become smaller and more nimble as they have fewer employees and more cross organizational boundary partnerships. Automattic, the company that runs WordPress.com (powering many of the blogs you read), is a testbed for all of us and this book shares their results.
Berkun joined Automattic after having been a consultant to them about how, as they grew, they might adjust their organizational structure. Up to where the book begins, they’d been a fully flat organization with all employees reporting to the founder, Matt Mullenweg. Mullenweg and the CEO, Toni Schneider found that as they went over 50 employees, then needed a change. In my words, they did a Stop-Look-Listen. Part of the looking and listening included talking to Berkun. Berkun then got to drink his own champagne, being brought on to lead one of the teams.
Automattic is a fully distributed company . Everyone works from their own home, coworking space, coffeeshop, or wherever. The work is almost all on-line and teams come together only when they need “recharge the intangibles that technology can’t capture” (p. 6).
From my view, this is a book about how many organizations should be run. I’m not saying that no organization needs a physical presence, but I am saying greater flexibility is a good outcome for many. Location isn’t the only futuristic aspect of Automattic; projects are largely self-organizing and hiring is done by “trial.”
I’m also thankful that we have this example of a company that shuns email (and remember, they rarely work face to face.) Instead of email, Automattic uses blogs (75%), group chat (14%), 1:1 (or so) chat/audio (Skype 5%). Email is one percent of their communication. As the owner of KillEmail.com, I thank Scott Berkun for sharing this real-world example.
If you’re into the details of open source code, chat dialogs and the like, you’ll find the stories and their presentation intriguing. Use the specifics of things like how they run their all-hands meetings with a webcam and two chat channels as a baseline for your own consideration. Experiment with your best guess and then improve in a way that better fits your own organization.
If you’re looking for more of a general management book, do what I did when reading Les Miserables: skip the parts in French (seriously, my “translated” version of Les Mis had full pages in French). The meaty organizational bits are worth it.
The Year Without Pants is a first person account of how organizations can be run. Scott Berkun walks us through the human, technical, and organizational aspects that help this company be so successful. It gave me the same feeling of being there (wherever there is in the case of a distributed company) that I felt with I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59 . Note that Berkun was employee number 58 at Automattic. Who would like me as employee number 57?
Two books to put on your holiday gift list
Scaling Up Excellence: Getting To More Without Settling For Less (Feb 2014) by Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao.
The Visual Organization: How Intelligent Companies Use Data Visualization To Make Better Decisions (March 2014) by Phil Simon.