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Running Your Agency/Tech Company like a Factory is Destroying Humanity: Part 1

from Sarah Prasuhn on April 22, 2015 03:10pm


I'm running endlessly through the woods, as far away from Silicon Forest/Valley as I can. Facebook has collapsed, so has Google, so has everything. A post-social media, free internet, apocalyptic world has ensued and all of the developers have gone into the woods to escape the aftermath clutching their now worthless laptops. In my dream all the CEOs of the software companies are in a room patting themselves on the back for giving it a good go, while the world falls apart in the aftermath of their self-focused existence.

This may have just been a crazy post White God viewing dream I had, but it touches on something real. Something that as a consultant for multiple companies I see all the the time.

And it's killing me. It's killing your company, and you're too busy getting beers with your funders to notice. Meanwhile your developers, project managers, and everyone else that is the core of your business is slowly burning out until they rage quit and go somewhere else to start it all over again.

And why? Because you as a business owner missed a critical transition in the business. As did your VC funders, and just about everyone. Silicon Valley is no longer about hardware, it's mostly about services, and in services the human element is the foundation of your business not just a commodity to get the chips out the door.

It matters how you treat people, your employees overall health and happiness directly affects your bottom line. It matters in blue collar work too but it takes longer to see the issues in something that is just pressing out the same computer chip every day.

As a services software based company you are not in the business of providing a physical piece of product. Firing/not-hiring people who use the words "work/life balance" is a fatal mistake. That person probably is more focused when they work than the person that knows how to brown nose you and make you feel good about your quarterly goals.

Working your workers to the bone to churn out reproducible pieces of product is BAD BUSINESS for you when the workers are producing code or design, and the customers are buying a service.

Code for all of it's reproducibility is a creative endeavor. I will not write code exactly as Michael, even when we use the same approaches. Coding standards matter, and exist, but outside of those there is still a lot of room for interpretation. Software changes so rapidly you can't possibly make a handbook for everything. So what are you to do?

Do what every creative industry has to at some point. Build in breaks, build in autonomy or you WILL BE BYPASSED in the future. Because some companies are catching on, and it's only a matter of time before they start to bypass commodity focused software companies.

Did you know that most of Hollywood literally shuts down in December? The industry that works 50hr weeks minimum, and for the most part in my opinion (as a former employee) sucks at understanding it's human element SHUTS DOWN IN DECEMBER and essentially parties the whole month.

This means that even some of the most overworked creatives in the world stop working to take a breather. At agencies especially, but in tech in general, we don't have that. And before you protest that you have enough benefits, a month of vacation is pittance for someone who has to be constantly creating a minimum of 6-7hrs a day. I've worked 14hr days as a Server, and was less tired than after solving problems with web-apps in half the time. Plus whatever meetings, time-tracking, and whatever else you as a business owner need for accounting is often in addition to your XX billable.

As a CEO your employees are my friends, it's hard watching you waste their talent, and everyone's time on earth just running through the motions your VCs layout. It's even harder watching the kind of people that thrive in an environment based on numbers, not innovation, suck the life out of your business and your employees that actually do the work well.

Those that are the best at surviving company politics, are also often the worst at building good software. They are too distracted by power playing everything around them to do the heads down work (yes project management, and UI design takes heads down work) necessary to produce quality software/websites. They also tend to poison the well for everyone else in an effort to cover up their lack of skills. In part 2 I will talk about politic prevention, and how to deal with it within your own company without firing everyone.

As someone who has run a small company, I know how simple adjustments make a huge difference in what your company is able to produce. Things like just raising rates a little, or taking a few hours off the availability calendar. Cutting out a couple of meetings that we thought we had to have the developer at. All of these things add up, and because a two person company is easy to adjust I can see the results almost instantly. It may take more time for larger companies, but Treehouse is proof that 4-8hr days are possible, and can have good results.

What doesn't work. Rewarding those that are present but not productive longer, billing hourly, paying for lunches so no one can leave without standing out, and then patting ourselves on the back for taking care of everyone AND our business. As if the two are constantly opposed to each other. When it's actually the opposite.

If your coders, project managers, and everyone else are able to take care of their day to day lives for themselves, do their side-projects, and feel free to not be in every single fucking meeting, a change will happen in your company. Better solutions for difficult problems will come easier, your clients will be happier, you'll be able to charge more money, or not charge hourly at all (more to come on why hourly billing is death for agencies).

In short remember this. Mentally and emotionally healthy humans = healthy businesses.

This is a difficult concept to get in the US, we are so used to assuming that we must trample on people to get ahead, but if you can make this paradigm shift it will revolutionize your life and your business and make the world a much better place for everyone you touch. We are stronger when we value each other equally instead of building a hierarchy that rewards mediocrity because we still imagine ourselves to be a factory not the creative entity we actually are.

Part 2 of this article is going to be action focused. I'll show you ways to get the most of out your humans and your business in a way that benefits everyone.

In the meantime if you or your devs are using Drupal to sell/build/market anything checkout Mike's book on how to model data so that your Drupal site can grow with your client's data, and everyone stays happy. FrontEnd devs if you want an easy repeatable way to setup your Foundation design framework in Drupal checkout my quickstart guide, it's short to the point, and gets you to designing in snap. Because spending less time on the boring stages is always a good thing.

Photo credit: Make Your Own Path by @pjrvs

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