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Ann Arbor Spark

March 16, 2020

Project Management: The Menlo Way

Using agile and lean processes to create great products and build a highly engaged culture.

This blog is the part of an ongoing bi-monthly series titled Building Great Organizations that highlights best practices and tools to promote highly innovative, productive, and positive workplace culture. Written by Anne Partington.

Menlo Innovations, a leading software development company, shares its innovative culture, business processes, and knowledge transfer through workshops. Productivity and business culture are hot topics today in every industry and organization, and successful project management is a key enabler to successful ROI and team morale. CEO Rich Sheridan’s bestsellers, Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love or Chief Joy Officer: How Great Leaders Elevate Human Energy and Eliminate Fear are internationally recognized as inspirational business culture books.

“Since 2001, Menlo has pursued returning joy to technology. Our mission is to end human suffering in the world as it relates to technology.®” CEO Rich Sheridan, Menlo Innovations

Onsite Workshops

I recently had the opportunity to take the course, Project Management: The Menlo Way™ and the description refers to the “creative and impactful” process of project management. While the workshop focused on project management, it also was in lockstep with two critical other organizational values: driving employee engagement and positive organizational culture.

If you haven’t been to Menlo, you haven’t experienced the warm atmosphere of the workspace where everything is set up for collaboration. The company mission, values, and inspirational quotes artfully present throughout the space remind all why they are there and what the core foundational principles are.

An image of two Menlo Innovation team members collaborating in pair programming.

Taking classes at Menlo Innovations headquarters allows one to experience the culture of “Joy” the Menlo way first-hand. During the class, you can see and hear the soft hum of fully engaged activity — teams of people collaboratively working: collaborative conversations, every project team working in pairs of two, project boards clearly marked with real-time project status, and a master screen in the middle of the space identifying which individuals are working on which project.

Voices can be heard engaged in what Rich Sheridan has termed “high-speed voice technology,” also known as the act of real-time communication and collaboration through conversation.

During the class, you may get a chance to meet team members referred to in Rich Sheridan’s books. In the workshop I attended, the main teachers were Menlo co-founder James Goebel and Kealy Williams, a senior software consultant. They and other Menlonians did a great job of teaching, sharing, and letting us execute the agile project management processes just as they would in a real software development project.

James shared this wisdom which may seem at first counterintuitive, “Almost everyone has too much to do. And it is easy to get frustrated trying to get it all done. In order to address this challenge at Menlo, we borrow from a lean manufacturing concept called single-piece-flow. The short version of this idea within our environment is that you will get more things done if you work on fewer things simultaneously.”

Teams and Collaboration

The project management course was conducted by incorporating the actual processes that the Menlo team uses to develop software. We wrote story cards, estimated task times with our teams, built work authorization boards, and even met with a pseudo client — a Menlonian who asked us the same questions that an actual client would — to go over status and plan work on a fictional project. We had to help the client determine what tasks to prioritize based on the status, budget, and resource allocation they were committing to and adjust to client changes in commitments. We also shared the project status on actuals with the client and planned ahead for the next week with adjustments needed.

An image of two Menlo Innovation team members collaborating in pair programming.

One of my favorite takeaways from the class was the estimation method. Regardless of seniority, the team gets together and goes through the estimation of each step of the project. Everyone in the group participates and with quick collaboration they set timelines. We had a chance to do this activity as a group and noticed that as we worked through our project, we also got quite adept and helped one another through the estimation process.

Participants also have the opportunity to be part of the 15-minute daily all company stand-up meeting. With a very efficient and sometimes humorous bent, each employee shares in a few seconds what they are working on. This meeting keeps everyone connected. I’ve had a few opportunities to participate in this fast-paced sharing and community ritual and loved that in such a short time sharing of critical business project status takes place.

Key Takeaways

  • Agile processes learned in this workshop are applicable to any industry in innovation, product and process development.
  • Great cultures are enabled through processes that are inclusive, straightforward and iterative.
  • Pair partners are the foundation of teamwork and accountability.
  • The visibility of resources and tasks at all times provides transparency and the real-time status.
  • Work on one thing at a time and complete it.
  • Active listening skills win the day.
  • Be mindful of apps and devices that are distracting from the task at hand.

Resources

To learn more about building great organizations The Menlo Way, try an upcoming workshop.

Project Management: The Menlo Way: Experience practices of Agile design and development.

High-Tech Anthropology: Learn how to effectively capture end-user requirements for building high-value, user-friendly products/services.

Culture Workshop: Learn how to build an intentional culture for your organization through exercises and questions.

Lead with Joy: CEO Rich Sheridan leads this workshop focusing on real-world leadership that increases human energy, organizational engagement and drives positive team results. Explore values and practices that drive joyful leadership.

Read more from SPARK’s Building Great Organizations series.