Hewlett-Packard pioneered the idea of management by wandering around. At Sutoiku (another company based in Palo Alto), we’re discovering the virtues of management by blogging around. We have no idea whether any other company did that before we did, but for us, it seems to be working.
We just tagged all 300 posts of this blog, which were written in the span of 85 days. That’s an average of 3.5 posts a day if you include week-end days, and 5 posts a days if you just include working days. In other words, we’re dumping some thoughts every couple of hours, for the whole world to see.
Most people could not care less about what we’re writing here, and we can’t blame them for that, for the prose is rather convoluted, and the topics usually arcane. But a few people do care, and those are the people we really care about. They fall into two buckets:
For ourselves, this blog serves as a log of our work (Cf. Blog as a log). For the community, it’s a way to engage at an early stage while we’re still operating under stealth mode, to gather early feedback, and to foster a spirit of participation. But we’re starting to realize that it goes far beyond that.
In a company, and especially one building software products for which creativity is essential, communication is everything. But communication is difficult, and meetings only take you so far (Cf. Meetings). One of the problems with meetings is that they’re synchronous, meaning that all attendees have to be present at the same time, and ideally at the same place (no amount of technology will ever replace face-to-face interactions). Unfortunately, for creative people, the best thinking usually occurs asynchronously, outside of meetings. For them, a blog of the kind we’re experimenting with can be very helpful.
Here is an example of how it works: for the past couple of days, we’ve had quite a few discussions internally about whether we should adopt the kind of flat organization that has made a company like Valve so successful. At some point, I summarized our thoughts in a blog post, which allowed me to clarify a few items and identify some issues. All collaborators in the company read the blog post, at their own pace, and gave it some thoughts. Then, a few came back to me with some ideas and suggestions. In parallel, members of our growing community did the same, and now I’m in a much better position to make a decision as to whether such an unusual organization would work for us or not, and what the consequences would be. And all it took was a couple of blog posts and a few informal discussions over lunch, coffee, or email, during the course of three or four days.
As our company and community are growing, the level of participation through the blog is increasing, and the blog is covering more and more aspects of our business (Cf. Tags). This, in turn, creates a fantastic archive for the business, allowing us to track our progress (Cf. Weekly Goals) and to facilitate the on-boarding of future employees. In fact, we make it a requirement for any applicant to read every single post of our blog before their first interview with us.
By using a public blog instead of an intranet or a private blogging platform (think Jive or Yammer), we blur the line between inside and outside, between company and community. And while there are some risks from a confidentiality standpoint, the benefits we reap out of such an open communication model clearly surpass them.
We’re also finding that communicating that way makes it a lot easier to collaborate with remote workers and to extend the Sutoiku experience beyond the walls of our office. For example, instead of hanging a picture on a wall, we push artistic posts on the blog, allowing everybody to enjoy them.
Clearly, we’re still in the early days of our experiment, and I’m sure that we’ll find that a few things are not working. We’re also bound to make some mistakes, especially when it comes to trade secrets or confidentiality agreements that we sign with customers and partners. But we will learn from them and invent a better way of managing a company along the way.
Thanks for participating. None of this would be possible without you!
UPDATE: Someone coined the term back in 2005.