Our company has just turned eight years old, has a presence in all of Latin America, and currently has 36 members on its team. Our biggest obsession: productivity.
Since 2007 we have analyzed in detail each one of the tasks we carry out with the goal of scaling our earnings exponentially while keeping our number of work hours the same.
As a result, six years ago we eliminated email, three years ago we eliminated meetings, and now we work without project managers and have a four-day work week. Here’s why we implemented these three changes and how we did it:
The first thing that came to our attention, years ago, was the negative impact that the use of emails was having on our company. What keeps surprising me, even today, is how the rest of the world still does not recognize that email, which is now over 20 years old, is the least productive tool we can use. We decided to eliminate it completely for all internal communication (and little by little for external communication). The two main disadvantages of email:
- Email encapsulates information. This means that when we exchange comments, suggestions, and inquiries, the rest of the company remains blocked off from knowing about our progress. It is communication behind closed doors. Meanwhile, the ideal is that all the documents are directly accessible at all times to whoever may need them — as are details on the state and degree of development of the project.
- Email ends up being a list of personalized tasks for each team member. It is the place where we go every day to see what our next task is. And this develops into an unorganized way to progress, without clear priorities. It certainly doesn’t help us to be correctly synchronized with the rest of our workmates.
How did we solve this?
We developed our own tool for work, specifically designed for our needs but very similar to what Trello currently offers. It is a control panel that we all have access to, where we can see all of the company’s projects as well as know in real time the degree of development on each.
If someone needs to be added to an ongoing project, it is not necessary to resend hundreds of emails (in a totally unorganized way) for them to be able to integrate themselves; they can simply go into the history of the project and see what has been done since the beginning, how it was carried out, and what remains to be done — then they can begin working immediately.
Additionally, today, we’ve given our clients access to our control panel as well, so they can see how we are advancing, without receiving external emails such as: “Any news on the project?”, “How much longer until the next delivery?”, etc.
The second thing we decided to completely eliminate was meetings. As a technological company, each team member is a programmer, and as such, we need an average of four continuous hours in the morning and four continuous hours in the afternoon in order to write code with the highest amount of productivity.
The “interruption” that is represented by attending a meeting always has a higher cost for a programmer than that of a manager. This is due to the fact that the manager’s agenda is basically composed of one meeting after the other. But for the programmer, just one meeting per day can have a 50 percent impact on their daily production.
Typically, meetings are used to find out how the work is advancing and to discuss any problems with the project manager and workmates. In order to rid ourselves of meetings, we use the same control panel that we implemented for eliminating emails. There, everyone can know the progress and state of the project and what each of the team members is working on at any given moment, without the need for interrupting their productivity.
If a specific problem arises that needs discussion, we use Campfire, which is a chat designed for group communication. But then how does this differ from a meeting? The advantage is that the communication is asynchronous. So it’s not necessary to stop what we are doing at that moment and lose our concentration; we can finish our four hours of continuous work, then, when we have the time and concentration, we can answer any pending inquiry.
In this new work method, our communication is not only asynchronous but is also exclusively text-based. This text can later be read by a new member who wants to collaborate on the project (or those who were on vacation, sick, or out of the office) without taking precious time from those who are already working on it.
Lastly, we determined over a year ago that we wanted to work without managers. Now we do not need someone to control our progress, because everything is online and visible to all of our workmates — which project we are working on, how we are handling it technically, how long it is taking us, what resources we are using, and what results we have achieved.
It is very easy for a programmer to know if their colleague is doing their work on time and in correct form. But the problem we had before was that, as Google cofounder and CEO Larry Page said: “Engineers shouldn’t have to be supervised by managers with limited tech knowledge.”
In order for this work method to work, we have two guidelines:
- We only hire proactive engineers; that is, people who do not need to be controlled all the time to do their job. Basically we choose other entrepreneurs like ourselves.
- When they join our company, we propose that they have a “vesting” program so that in the future they can be owners of the company.
In our way of seeing the world, an adult does not need to be managed. We are all grown up. So we give total autonomy to our team members and delegate them responsibility. We measure their performance exclusively by results. I would like to share this excellent TED presentation about this last point that invites us to think about a new age, posterior to and totally different from the industrial age.
Thanks to our increased productivity, we’ve been able to move to a schedule of working only four days a week. That’s only possible because we eliminated email as a way of communication, recognizing that meetings with the technology team are not necessary, and understood that each individual we work with should be 100 percent independent, autonomous, and responsible for the work delegated to them.
Christian Renella and Hernán Amiune are cofounders of MT Online in Mexico. They are both .NET programmers and professors at the Universidad Católica de Córdoba.