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Does Valve have a good working methodology?

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I knew they had a unique way of doing things, almost a bit like how facebook operate(or like others to think they do), a bit of a hippy commune (communist) vibe going on where everyone is treated equal(flat), have no official title and is generally let to get on with what they want, as long as it somewhat brings something to the table. I have read a few articles previously from Gabe Newell about this and now I read their 'new employee manual' from their site.

 

It's really a unique way of doing things, I could imagine it going south or a lot of people, laziness, arguments, lack of motivation/direction but it works for them.

 

Here is the manual(bottom of page), http://www.valvesoftware.com/jobs/

 

So what do you think, is this just a one off group of people with a certain similar personality that can pull it off or is this generally a good business model.

Maybe they are all terribly depressed and demotivated underneath but they are successful/creative if nothing else.

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The problem there was that without any formal structure then people would indirectly start forming their own unofficial power relationships. In other words, it's essentially unavoidable, we're going to end up with that at some point. (interestingly, this says something about politics as well, since it's exactly the same issue)

 

Honestly I'd still assign titles and such (because let's face it, the amount of people who can do everything is close to nil), but not make them "hard", i.e. if something requires them to do something out of their assigned job then let them do it (and adjust the credits appropriately). Basically, give it some organization but allow it to change easily as the needs change. Probably not as easy with large teams, but that's just another reason to avoid large teams ;P

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1. So what do you think, is this just a one off group of people with a certain similar personality that can pull it off
2. or is this generally a good business model.
3. Maybe they are all terribly depressed and demotivated underneath


1. Almost certainly not. Most likely this came from the top, started when the company was smaller, and is maintained by the old-timers. Newcomers adapt.
2. It's unwise to draw such sweeping generalities. Generally speaking.
3. Unlikely.

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Somewhat related:

https://labs.spotify.com/2014/03/27/spotify-engineering-culture-part-1/

 

There's also the part 2.  Check it out.

 

The whole idea of this loose structure is based off trust.  Without trust, this won't work.  So obviously, if you have an enormous company with poor management teams and where 50% of employees aren't happy, you can't just switch to this structure and expect everybody to get happy and get along.  This is something that has to be built from the ground up, starting from the core original employees, and the support from the management.

 

Managers of a Big Co sometimes want to keep that power.  Why?  They don't trust their employees will do the right thing.  They treat them like some kind of farm animals, resources that needs to be caged and directed to maintain order.  This is fine and well, but domesticated employees will do nothing but being told.  Without direction, they will refuse to work.  When there is no project to work on, nobody will come up with a new exciting project, people will simply sit and idle.  Not because they can't start one, because they don't want to.  Why should they?  They don't get paid extra for it, and perhaps if the project did end up successful, the managers or other people will try to steal the credit -- because there's no trust among the employees.

 

While a structure that's as loose as Valve's encourages employees to be independent, so they can have some 'ownership' or 'investment' to their projects, which ultimately benefit the company as a whole.  The idea is for employees to understand that the company trusts them to do the right thing, and that they should be the one turning the gears, not being the cog in the wheel.

Edited by alnite

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I think you should read this: http://www.gamespot.com/articles/ex-valve-employee-blasts-the-company-for-feeling-like-high-school/1100-6411126/

 

Specially the part about the "hidden layer of management".

 

EDIT: I'm not saying that Valve's flat hierarchy is a lie or something like that, but I'm just referencing a different point of view about the whole thing, which is a nice reference.

Edited by TheChubu

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There have been accounts where people didn't quite fit the culture, and that is to be expected.

I'm particularly curious about how the project prioritization occurs. It is a powerful tool that to determine which projects gets completed based on the amount of interest it generates in your coworkers. Assuming that the human resources are the best asset this company has, peer feedback is invaluable, and people taking ownership to bring it to the next step is the utmost form of engagement. In other words, it can only 'do well' when so many skilled people give it thought and love.

 

That being said, the external image that Valve reflects hints at a portion of Chaos, and wherever Chaos dwells, some people are bound to use some means to acquire and exercise power. I wouldn't be surprised that a number of 'veterans', have convinced their own clique of followers, and somewhat have a strong impact over the 'flow' (it can't all be naive and innocent).

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I think you should read this: http://www.gamespot.com/articles/ex-valve-employee-blasts-the-company-for-feeling-like-high-school/1100-6411126/
 
Specially the part about the "hidden layer of management".
 
EDIT: I'm not saying that Valve's flat hierarchy is a lie or something like that, but I'm just referencing a different point of view about the whole thing, which is a nice reference.

 
I tend to agree with much of that review.
 
There is still power within the organization. The problem is that the source which historically is the most visible source of power, the hierarchical organization, is not there.
 
Going through the list, there are still people who have the information, the people who act as gatekeepers to schedules and prorities.  There are people who control the budgets. There are still people who are high performers with a well-respected track record.  There are still experts and novices on their system. There are still the popular folk.  There are still connectors and mavens. 
 
The difficulty is that without the positional framework you don't have the person you know to go to.  Under a traditional environment you can go directly to the right person if you know who that is, but if you don't know then you need to go to your boss, who can help you find the right person. 
 
In their model it can be extremely difficult to find the right person.  You might ask two or three or ten people who the expert on a specific system is, and nobody knows. Also, those same people don't know who to ask. So you're stuck with an email to everyone@thecompany asking who has experience with the tech.  If instead you had the positional hierarchy in place you could ask up a layer, they ask laterally, if necessary each of those can ask down, and then when the knowledge is found it quickly returns to you.

 

In smaller groups the idea of getting rid of the hierarchical power, and only relying on the other forms of power which are more based on your actual competence, that can work well.  But as the organization grows, she is right that the sources of power within the organization become hidden. There is a hidden mesh of information power, a hidden mesh of who controls the budgets, a hidden mesh of who hold other types of power. If for some reason you are unable to latch on an connect to a part of the meshes, you are better off leaving the organization for a place that will appreciate what you have to offer.

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EDIT: I'm not saying that Valve's flat hierarchy is a lie or something like that, but I'm just referencing a different point of view about the whole thing, which is a nice reference.

 

Nice read.  Keep in mind that it is from within Valve that she created the castAR technology.  Valve's culture allowed that to happen.  If she were in another company, perhaps castAR would have never been born.

 

Clicks will happen in any social structure.  Even more so in the traditional hierarchical structure.  This is why there are people who are good at climbing the corporate ladder.  They happen to click well with their bosses (or perhaps intentionally), creating some sort of "we are the cool people, you are not" barrier.  They climb up not because of any particular excellence in the field, just because they know the right people within the company, just as the old saying goes that it's whom you know, not what you know.

Edited by alnite

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