I'm a fan of Scott Berkun's writings, as they always entertain, educate, and challenge me. I got the opportunity to read and review his latest book, The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work. On the surface, it tells the story of Berkun's stint at WordPress.com as a team lead. That position was an experiment for WordPress, as they needed to alter their management and control structure to accommodate growth going forward. It was also an experiment for Berkun, as he had stepped away from the world of corporate work to pursue his writing and management consulting business. But the story is more of a framework that he uses to share some principles and concepts that he learned and observed as part of his time there. The book is well worth reading for anyone who is part of a team at work (which should include just about everyone).
Contents: What You Need to Know; The Hotel Electra; The First Day; Tickets for Caturday; Culture Always Wins; Your Meetings Will Be Typed; The Bazaar at the Cathedral; The Big Talk; The Future of Work, Part 1; Working the Team; How to Start a Fire; Real Artists Ship; Athens Lost and Found; Double Down; There Can Be Only One; The Future of Work, Part 2; Innovation and Friction; The Intense Debate; Follow the Sun; The Rise of Jetpack; Show Me the Money; Portland and the Collective; The Bureau of Socialization; Exist Through Hawaii; The Future of Work, Part 3; Epilogue - Where Are They Now?; Notes; Annotated Bibliography; Acknowledgements; About the Author; Index
It's interesting to see how Berkun steps into a culture where everything is open, there are few rules set in stone, and the things you're measured on are not necessarily things you're told about. It's even more difficult when the position that you are filling is one that has never really existed in the company. He had to not only be a team lead for a team he had never worked with (at a company he hadn't worked for), he had to define the role and responsibilities of the position on the fly. Would it work? Would his team follow? Would the culture of the company even accommodate the concept of a team lead? Give that team leads are often tasked with herding cats, he wasn't exactly stepping into an easy job to start with even under normal circumstances.
I'll throw the "spoiler" out here and say that everyone survives and life rolls on (as that's not really the point of The Year Without Pants). The more important thing about the book are the number of key takeaways that Berkun stuffs into 250 pages. You could likely write a number of articles using various key points in the book. I'll go with just one here to give you an idea of what to expect...
WordPress is a different company to start with. Everyone works remotely, and their office is rarely populated with more than a handful of people at any given time. People work wherever and whenever they'd like. The time off policy is open, as in you take it when you need it. Communication between people takes place using whatever tools the team finds useful (basically they use WordPress blogs, Skype, and IRC... very little email). It's tempting to look at their success and say "this is how everyone should work and how all companies should be structured." The reality, as Berkun correctly points out, is that every company and culture is different, and you can't impose a "one methodology fits all" on any group and think it will work equally as well as it does at WordPress. Yes, you should learn from WordPress and be open to their ideas and ways of working. No, you can not just dictate that everyone from January 1st will quit using email, will communicate solely with blogs, and will stay in IRC all day long. Instead, understand the reasons behind why it works for WordPress, and see what elements of those practices will work for your group.
Books on management are generally painful to slog through. That's not the case with The Year Without Pants, though. Berkun's style of writing is humorous, honest (painfully so at times), and insightful. Regardless of where you are on the food chain at work, you should take the time to read The Year Without Pants and see what might be possible if you toss out preconceived notions of how work should work...
Disclosure: Obtained From: Author Payment: Free
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About the reviewer
Thomas Duff (duffbert)
Thomas Duff, aka "Duffbert", is a long-time member of the Lotus community. He's primarily focused on the development side of the Notes/Domino environment, currently working for a large insurance … more