"Year without Pants" by Scott Berkun, ISBN 978-1118660638, website
I liked one of Scott Berkun's previous books (The Myths of Invention), and decided to read the latest book describing his year as a team manager at Automattic (the company running WordPress.com). This is a personal journal with interesting analysis delivered very well through engaging writing.
The Automattic is an unusual company: mostly the employees are former volunteers who worked on the WordPress open source platform; now working from across the glob with very little face to face interaction, aside from week long team meetups organized in different locales every quarter. Each team has 4-8 members, working from different time zones, communicating via blogs (of course), Skype and IRC channels. For Scott, who was previously a writer and a manager working at Microsoft on Internet Explorer (during the 90s), this was the first remote working experience.
The book spoke to me, since trying to communicate through Skype or other channels means a great deal of emotional clues are not there during the conversations. It also means very little spontaneous contact, random encounters, etc. The author returns to this theme again and again, struggling to find the right balance, and questioning if he truly understands his team.
The second theme of the book is a discussion of the employee power and autonomy. The Automattic definitely gives its employees a LOT of leeway in picking projects and how to execute them. There are no deadlines, marketing departments, public relations, etc. This is an unusual environment, probably would not work for a majority of other software businesses. Still, the author's conclusions about the unnecessary evils of middle-management are very interesting.
Finally, as the book and authors tenure at Automattic approach the end, I came to the conclusion that Mr. Berkun himself felt not terribly useful as a team manager. In a situation where there were 4 people, including the manager, how useful is a person delegating / dividing the work? I am happy on the other hand that this allowed the author enough time to analyze the situation and describe it later.