When Rich Sheridan, CEO of Menlo Innovations and author of the popular book Joy, Inc. visited LEI recently, we got a chance to talk about the unique – some would say unusual – culture at his software development company. But we also talked about the parallels between lean management and the principles followed at Menlo, such as the similarities between the lean concept of “go and see,” and the work of what Menlo calls “high-tech anthropologists.” Watch the full video interview or read highlights below.
On developing the learning culture at Menlo:
“I say we can’t produce joy in the world if we don’t produce joy in the room. In order to keep ourselves in a learning mode, I believe it has to start with leadership… One of my biggest jobs is to “systematically pump fear out of the room.” Because if we can pump enough fear out of the room… (the fear many of us learn during our managerial mentorship [years] where we learn to motivate with fear)… people feel safe. If they feel safe, they begin to trust one another, they begin to collaborate… then you start getting the things everybody wants from a learning organization: creativity, innovation, invention, imagination, human energy…
The specific things we do, the structures we use at Menlo accomplish that goal. For example, we remove all barriers to communication… The space is flexible, noisy, and they’re all together in the room. And the team has total control over the space… [Just this] begins to open up a whole other set of possibilities.”
On using the “go and see” principle to better understand customers/users:
“Our focus (external to the organization) is to delight the people for whom the software we’re designing and building is intended. People we will probably never meet and will never pay us for what we do. We’re trying to delight the users of the software we’re trying to create. In order to do that we need to understand their lives, not just their work flow or process, but [who they are] as human beings. So our “high tech anthropologists” go out and observe these [users]… and their goals as human beings…
I lament that we have gotten to the point in our industry where we refer to the typical people we’re trying to serve as stupid users and then we write dummies books for them. It doesn’t have to be that way. I can tell you it’s not stupid users, it’s stupid design. If we can improve the design process by understanding the people we’re trying to serve… we can create software that doesn’t need user manuals.”
On building in quality and what makes Menlo unique:
“One thing we do is have coders work in pairs – two people, one computer, all day long… sharing the keyboard back and forth, collaborating on the code… I had someone watching this recently [who said], “You’ve moved source and inspection to the exact same moment.”
Jeffrey Liker said, “Any piece (of lean product and process development thinking) you find at Menlo, you’ll find somewhere else…” What Jeff said was, “You won’t find all the pieces working together the way you’ll find them working together at Menlo.” I appreciate that commentary. But yes, these [principles] are well understood, they’ve been talked about for over a decade, and they’re still rare in our industry even though they produce phenomenal results.”
Rich Sheridan will share more of Menlo’s story at LEI’s Lean Transformation Summit March 4-5. The Summit is sold out, but follow along using the hashtag #lean15 or join us via livestream.