Inside Menlo Innovations - an Intro From an Ex-Menlonian

I was in start-ups and being somewhat of a road warrior.  My own start-up won an Inc. Web Award, I'd been to Dubai, and then I had to get divorced.  Without going into much detail, what it meant to me was that I had to do something to support my family that didn't mean weekly travel.

Enter Rich Sheridan, CEO of Menlo Innovations.  At this point I can't recall who made that introduction, but I do remember what they said: "you HAVE to have coffee with Rich!"  There's something about a combination of passion and story telling ability that makes Rich one of the more captivating people to talk to.  He met me and then invited me up to see Menlo...I was instantly in love with the place.  The walls were full of paper, the air was a-buzz with the chatter of innovation.  I couldn't help but want to be a part of it.

You can't just pass an interview with Rich to have the opportunity to work at Menlo.  You have to go through an "Extreme Interview,"  This means a cattle-call style interview, at night, with (in my case) over 40 other interviewees all in the same open space.  Rich introduces himself, welcome's everyone, and advises those there to get work: "your job is to get the other person hired."  After that, it's pairing with three different people on three different tasks all while being watched by three different "facilitators" who are already do work for Menlo.

As facilitators, you look for things like sense of humor, ability to share the pen, accept ideas from their partner?  Are they overbearing or do they listen well to their partner?  How do they do under the pressure of trying to get progress on an hour long task when they only have 20 minutes to complete it?  At the end of the night, when candidates leave, facilitators gather for dinner, pictures of interviews are projected on a screen, and the three who observed the tasks vote with thumbs (up, down, or middle for undecided.   If there isn't a consensus, discussion, sometimes very passionate and spirited discussion ensues.   Successful candidates progress.

Because all team roles pair at Menlo, the next step is to pair in with different projects in one day, then 3 days, then a week, then three weeks if you are successful.  With feedback all along the way.  Success means that you are generally back on the schedule every week - as long as client work remains. 

I was lucky to be on that schedule for almost 3 years in the late 2000's.  Lucky because it allowed me to learn Agile from soup to nuts, lucky because it enabled me understand how Innovation and Lean Start-up work as a system, and lucky to work with passionate and brilliant fellow Menlonians.  Personally, those were the roughest three years of my life, but professionally I still pull from that experience at least weekly to inform the way I think about my company, my clients, and my work.

In my next Menlo related post, I'll talk more about Menlo's process, in the meantime you can read Rich's book, "Joy".

Cross-Functional Demystified

I was speaking at a conference a few weeks ago and got a question about Cross-Functional Teams.  The way he asked the question, it was clear what he meant - he meant "how do I get QA to work with my development team?"  It may shock you to hear me say that having a SCRUM team of Developers and Testers does NOT mean the team is cross functional.  I'll explain:

In football you have catchers, running-back, quarterbacks, defensive lineman, etc.   If the opposing team fumbles the ball right in front of a lineman what does he do?  Stand there and say "Where are they guys who are supposed to run this ball?  I don't run the ball.  HELP!!!"  No.  He grabs the ball and runs as fast as he can...sometimes even being responsible for the game-winning touchdown.  That's what we mean by being cross functional.  How does this football player know what to do?   He knows it's his responsibility.  He knows the rules of the game.  In addition to his squad work, he works with the rest of the team on real plays in true game scenarios.

So what am I saying?  Have the SKILL SETS on the team is one thing.  Having people who are given permission to, expected to be and TRAINED TO BE cross-functional is something else.  Cross-Functionality isn't just a skill set it's a MINDSET that breaks silos across disciplines and hierarchies.  It has to be taught, recognized, and rewarded because it isn't easy.   The risk of not being cross functional?  Bottlenecks and your organizational "dropping the ball" in the market, losing to competition, and falling behind on the innovation curve.

Check back for a post about how incentives can help.