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Can Valve's 'Bossless' Company Model Work Elsewhere?

samzenpus posted about a year and a half ago | from the missing-a-lot-of-work-lately dept.

Businesses 522

glowend writes "I just listened to a fascinating podcast with Valve's economist-in-residence, Yanis Varoufakis, about the unusual structure of the workplace at Valve where there is no hierarchy or bosses. Teams of software designers join spontaneously to create and ship video games without any top-down supervision. Varoufakis discussed the economics of this Hayekian workplace and how it actually functions alongside Steam — a gaming platform created by Valve. I kept wondering: assuming that his description of Valve is accurate, can this model work for other tech companies?"

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No (5, Insightful)

GeneralTurgidson (2464452) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064021)

Too many entrenched managers who provide nothing to the company.

Re:No (2, Funny)

multiben (1916126) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064137)

Bam! Take that managers!

Re:No (5, Insightful)

gweihir (88907) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064141)

Too many entrenched managers who provide nothing to the company.

The managers are not the only problem (albeit usually the largest one). Incompetent or unmotivated "craftsmen" (engineers, artists, ...) are the second problem as they will either try to become managers themselves or be unable or unwilling to temporarily assume management functions. And the third problem is anybody with a lust for power, although that often coincides with being incompetent.

Re:No (5, Interesting)

Kell Bengal (711123) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064327)

I think the problem is not managers/engineers/etc per se. The problem is not the job function so much as the deadwood doing the function. I have known useless engineers, and I have known useless managers, and I have known useless administrative staff. The problem is the people: they are no good at their job and don't care to get better. The problem is, those people need to eat and pay their bills, so they have to have a job somewhere.
I think a large part of society's ills could be cured with something akin to a basic income [wikipedia.org] that basically pensions off people who don't want to be there so that those of us who do - who are highly motivated and capable - can get on with things. Let the manager who wants to spend all day fishing do exactly that. I want to spend all day building robots and educating students. The work will get done, and our industrial processes can produce enough for everyone.

Re:No (5, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064353)

The work will get done, and our industrial processes can produce enough for everyone.

I don't think that's really true. I sure wouldn't be doing that work. I would be doing some work, but it would be work for me, that I enjoy. The world would look like the open source landscape at best. At worst we'd have no garbage collectors.

Re:No (5, Interesting)

ynp7 (1786468) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064395)

You haven't really thought it through or you don't understand. The garbage collector would get paid for doing his job, which would be separate from the basic income. Maybe the price of garbage collection goes up to pay the collectors more, but someone would certainly do it.

Re:No (5, Interesting)

citizenr (871508) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064495)

The work will get done, and our industrial processes can produce enough for everyone.

I don't think that's really true. I sure wouldn't be doing that work. I would be doing some work, but it would be work for me, that I enjoy. The world would look like the open source landscape at best. At worst we'd have no garbage collectors.

Thats the point, you would be living on basic income in a trailer park doing whatever it is you like to do. Smart capable people would do useful stuff and move civilization ahead. This is one of the scenarios of post scarcity world (goods/food manufactured by automatons leaving people unemployed).
  Plenty of examples in Science fiction literature. From the top of my head I can remember a short story where mandatory state IQ tests determined class you belonged to. Lowest class was forbidden from working and was provided for, higher classes were forced to work to utilize their mental capacity. Story was about a hacker helping people cheat IQ tests so they could classify as higher class and work. Incidentally that hacker had to pay another hacker to hide his own high IQ so he didnt have to work :). I forgot the name of the story :(

Re:No (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064367)

so that those of us who do - who are highly motivated and capable

Actually, I think society's main problem is a bunch of mediocre people who think they are "highly... capable".

But universal basic income is a sound idea, and modern capitalism's worst fear (how can you enslave those who have choice?), giving me two reasons to love it.

Re:No (0, Troll)

0123456 (636235) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064413)

But universal basic income is a sound idea,

No, it's one of the dumbest ideas I've seen spread across the Internet lately.

and modern capitalism's worst fear (how can you enslave those who have choice?), giving me two reasons to love it.

How are you going to give a 'universal basic income' to everyone without enslaving those who produce that wealth in the first place? They have a choice: until you send them to the inevitable gulags, they can say 'screw you' and stay at home instead of working.

Re:No (5, Insightful)

davydagger (2566757) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064521)

we are already enslaved. those who produce the wealth in the first place don't own it at all. someone else fucking does.

workers are still capable of producing goods and services without bosses.

bosses cannot produce goods or services without workers.

Re:No (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064523)

They'll stay at home and contribute nothing, instead of getting in the way at work contributing nothing. Sounds like a win.

Re:No (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064531)

" they can say 'screw you' and stay at home instead of working."

99% of the case, people will eventually bored and find something to do. Those who can't are usually due to health or disability reasons, and the gov't is paying for them either way.

Re:No (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064533)

How are you going to give a 'universal basic income' to everyone without enslaving those who produce that wealth in the first place?

So we don't really have to change much then.

Re:No (5, Insightful)

Your.Master (1088569) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064547)

If they stay at home instead of working, then they aren't motivated by the money they could earn.

Capitalism runs on the assumption that people are motivated by the marginal differences in income between jobs. This continues to operate under the universal basic income scenario. Otherwise, there can only be intra-industry salary competition and never inter-industry.

This reminds me of an economist's thought experiment -- let's say there are two widgets, a premium one for $200 and a knock-off for $100. The premium one is legitimately better, so you intend to buy that one, but the knock-off would do and if you were tight on money you could get by with that. You will only ever need one of these widgets.

You get to the store, and actually find that there's an ill-conceived doorcrasher sale. Widgets are all uniformly $100 cheaper. The knock-off is now free and the premium one is now $100. What do you get now?

A lot of people instinctively say they'd take the knock-off because it's free, but if you're a rational actor you should stick with your original choice, because the difference between the knock-off and the premium one, both in terms of costs and benefits, has not changed at all, whatsoever.

In reality, people aren't rational, so they will shift to the knock-off sometimes. But we also aren't talking about a one-day-only sale. People want luxuries, so they'll work.

There have been some positive experiments with this in the past (eg. Canada tried http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mincome [wikipedia.org] and came out with some pretty positive results, although they knew this was not permanent so that could affect behaviour) and there are lots of places that have a partial basic income guarantee without imploding, though long term full basic income guarantees in otherwise-capitalist-leaning countries are scarce. An experiment in a poorer nation actually registered an increase in economic activity: http://www.bignam.org/BIG_pilot.html [bignam.org] .

I have no doubt there are downsides to this, or even really advocating for it, I'm just trying to counter the "dumbest idea" that you put forward. Like most economic ideas, it's not obviously stupid or obviously smart, because just about nothing about economics is simple.

Re:No (1)

gweihir (88907) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064509)

I agree with you that management position can be filled competently. The problem is that they usually are not.

I completely agree with you on basic income and I think it would in fact make civilization richer and more productive. I have time and again seen management waste most of the productivity of those actually working and not contributing anything themselves.I even think that science and education would gain a lot in quality. Too many people are in there for the prestige or the money and not because they want to do it well. And, again, they have a massively negative contribution as result.

Re:No (2)

SerpentMage (13390) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064553)

This is just plain stupid! Not just a bit, but quite a bit. How come I know? Because MY country Switzerland is right now trying to get enough signatures to have a vote. So being a good Swiss I decided to have a look at this model and ask, "can this really work?"

Answer is no. The idea itself is actually not bad. The reality of it is quite bad. What I decided to do was take three countries; Switzerland, Germany, and Canada and look at their current budgets. The idea is that if you have a basic income, then you don't need to pay handicapped people, or pensioners, or unemployed. Essentially you would simplify the entire system and potentially create a very small government.

The problem is that the costs of the program minus the current social expenditures still requires about 2 times extra tax revenues. So if a country had 100 currency units, they needed in total 300 currency units. Simple case in point, Canada. Give people a base income of say 18,000 CDN, which is not much money and minimum wage the Canadian government has just in this program an expenditure of 700 billion. Current revenues are 252 billion. This means people who are paying taxes have to pay about three times as much, and that is impossible since Canadians are already heavily taxed.

Thus this idea while interesting from a theoretical point of view, SUCKS BIG ONES in reality. Notice how all the people supporting this idea tend not to be economists or bean counters. BTW I am not against this idea, as I rather like simplicity and lean government.

Re:No (2, Insightful)

Penguinisto (415985) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064349)

Oh, it's not just managers and deadwood/slackers... too many corporate departments have specialized and bloated-out unnecessarily (Note: at risk of being called troll, IT is admittedly included to an extent - depending on company/practices.)

  We can start with "Human Resources" - I'm willing to wager that you can easily chop or outsource (to computer or external service) 90% of what an HR specialist does, and still run the company just fine. Seriously - how many effing times does one have to sit through company-wide mandatory sex-harassment or diversity-appreciation classes? Fire any SOB who crosses the line, call it good. It's not as if anyone can claim ignorance of the law, for heaven's sake.

That's just the biggest one that comes to mind for me, but I'm very sure that any sales department whose members aren't actually selling the company's product? Yeah - bloat. IT departments with members that aren't getting their hands into desktops, servers, networks, or actual code, etc? Ditto.

'course, I'm also of a mind that unless the company is sufficiently large enough (e.g. Fortune 500-sized), middle managers shouldn't even exist.

Finally, there's redundant positions. If I'm a Systems Engineer who deals with building whole environments for clients, why do I need dedicated server engineers helping me put together my company's hosted solutions? Cut me out a few VMs in their own subnet, point me to the internal website/share where the approved software lives, tell me what IP my own virtual firewall lives at, then get the hell out of my way. Need Change-Management/ITIL? Okay - but keep it to a minimum and save it for anything after production-stage. No need for projects to be hung up by internal SLAs, no waiting a literal week on someone with almost the same skillset to change some setting for me that I could have done five minutes after recognizing the need for it, etc. (Mind you, that last example exists in the real world... hence the justification for, you know, cutting the $#@! fat out.)

 

Re:No (3, Funny)

citizenr (871508) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064505)

We can start with "Human Resources"

You cant in US. HR is not to help you work more efficient. HR is there to shield corporation from LAWSUITS. They can point a finger and say 'mister X was reprimanded by HR for grabbing women asses and ejaculating into water cooler".

Re:No (1)

uncqual (836337) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064519)

how many effing times does one have to sit through company-wide mandatory sex-harassment or diversity-appreciation classes?

In some cases, required by law so not an option. In all cases, how would you define "line" if you don't train people in where the line is? If someone crosses an undocumented line and one that they are not trained in and you fire them, you'd better be sure they are not a "protected class" or you will expect a lawsuit from the person dismissed. I hate these things too, but our litigious nanny society leaves few options for companies of a size worthy of suing.

Re:No (1)

gweihir (88907) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064541)

Yes, indeed. This is what bureaucracy does: Bureaucrats get more important by growing the number of their underlings and by wasting more and more of what others produce. Remove all bureaucrats with full wages and raises and the whole gains tremendously. These people have massive negative productivity.

I do disagree to a degree on the IT solution: Some competent consulting to make sure you do not overlook things would be a good idea (every single person building solutions does overlook things), but it would definitely not need to be full-time. And there is indeed a need for somebody able to replace you if you get bored, sick or are hit by a bus. That could be done by somebody competent doing 10%-20% of your job. Finally, making sure things are actually maintainable has to be done by somebody form the outside as well. None of this needs to come with bureaucracy though.

It must work.. (5, Funny)

leathered (780018) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064047)

Just look at the number of Half-Life games they churn out. I haven't even finished HL6 and HL7 is coming out next week!

Re:It must work.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064065)

You're looking at the wrong metric. Gabes apparently worth a few billion, he must have done something right.

Re:It must work.. (1)

Hentes (2461350) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064095)

They made a switch to publishing instead of creating their own games. In retrospect it looks like a good decision.

Re:It must work.. (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064501)

They moved into the lucrative virtual-hat selling business.

Re:It must work.. (1)

wbr1 (2538558) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064115)

They are not in the red, so it makes money.
Also, as much as I love half-life and want to see it continue, I would rather wait years than see something like Call of Duty:Half Life edition.
That said, I still hold to the idea that Valve's trifecta of titles (Half-Life, L4D, and Portal), will initially be exclusive on a "Steam Box" console and doled out over a schedule in order to inflate initial adoption.

Re:It must work.. (1, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064199)

Yes, but they make virtually all their money off of other companies products. Steam itself is poorly coded and buggy. It's good enough that people don't run away from it, but the software itself is in bad need of a rewrite.

The latter half-life projects are laughably far behind.

So, I'd say that Valve really demonstrates why bossless isn't a good idea. Somebody needs to be in charge and making sure things are done at some point.

Re:It must work.. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064319)

sounds like you didn't make the cut.

Re:It must work.. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064345)

Why do you say Steam is buggy. I've only seen one bug on a screen that most people never see.

The cannot connect screen's retry button exits Steam, but I haven't had any other problems.

Re:It must work.. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064403)

He says it because it makes him sound "interesting", as if he has some deep insight that you and I lack. He doesn't. Did you notice he did not give any reasons? He doesn't have any. He's just full of shit.

The world, and slashdot in particular, is full of idiots like this, claiming that [INSERT NAME OF ANYTHING WIDELY ADMIRED AND WELL RECEIVED] is an absolute piece of crap without any arguments whatsoever. Nothing to see there, move along.

Re:It must work.. (1)

ynp7 (1786468) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064417)

Nearly every update seems to get stuck trying to reapply itself whenever Steam restarts. Not sure how common this is, but it's hardly isolated to my machine.

Re:It must work.. (2)

Junta (36770) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064455)

Big picture mode will invariably crash after a while is one I've particularly noticed.

They have worked various performance problems with their overlay as well.

Re:It must work.. (3, Insightful)

captjc (453680) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064525)

It is slow, a memory hog, and the web browser takes forever to load (especially the store page). Half of the updates seem to try to reapply themselves every time I open Steam.

Steam may not be the worst program in the world, but it is far from perfect.

Re:It must work.. (1)

DragonTHC (208439) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064297)

given the size of my steam library, adoption won't be a problem for me.

As long as it's console price and not sony price.

Yes (4, Interesting)

cervesaebraciator (2352888) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064063)

But only on Valve Time [wikipedia.org] .

But who would build the desks? (0)

hawks5999 (588198) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064069)

There must be bosses or no one will have a place to sit and work.

Re:But who would build the desks? (4, Funny)

cheater512 (783349) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064127)

"Welcome to the company! Here is your Allen key."

Like Most Companies? (5, Insightful)

Art Challenor (2621733) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064073)

Isn't this how most companies work? In order to get anything done, you form an ad-hoc group of capable people to work on a project.

Seems to me the only difference is that in a normal company that group then has to figure out how to outflank the management hierarchy in order to complete the project, whereas this model skips that step.

Re:Like Most Companies? (3, Insightful)

gweihir (88907) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064147)

Unfortunately very true. But it is worse: There are quite a few companies where this is not possible. How do you think really large and important projects fail?

Re:Like Most Companies? (4, Insightful)

Darinbob (1142669) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064155)

The "bossless" part is just a bit of hyperbole. _Someone_ is going to be hiring and firing. It probably means it's not a strict hierarchical hand out of duties (which is actually pretty rare many places), but there's still someone involved with making sure that all the money being spent will lead to an actual product that gets released on time, even if that person isn't constantly applying pressure.

Re:Like Most Companies? (4, Informative)

SpiralSpirit (874918) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064217)

http://assets.sbnation.com/assets/1074301/Valve_Handbook_LowRes.pdf [sbnation.com] I think you should read the handbook before deciding you know more about their hyperbole than they do.

Re:Like Most Companies? (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064429)

You can still be fire. I have no doubt though that if you are there and steal company supplies and grope some employees at every opportunity, that someone will be firing you. Even if the person who does it says "WE came to a decision and have to let you go after calling the FBI", that's still the person given temporarily responsibility for firing you. Over time the stack ranking figures out how much you get paid, which just means your peers are your boss. If everyone has figured out you're taking 6 month vacations, you'll be out the door.

Now, can the rest of the employees get together and fire Gabe?

Re:Like Most Companies? (2)

SpiralSpirit (874918) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064459)

Of course you can be fired. No-one said otherwise, and obviously from the news it happens. There's a protocol for reviews and being let go. Gabe is the owner of the company - of course he can't be fired. But aside from setting up the protocols and making some "ultimate" decisions, the actual day to day running of the company seems to operate in the "flat" way. It isn't hyperbole - its a totally different organizational structure.

Re:Like Most Companies? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064337)

there's still someone involved with making sure that all the money being spent will lead to an actual product that gets released on time, even if that person isn't constantly applying pressure.

How have you not heard of Valve Time? Clearly there is no one applying pressure for any deadlines to be met and the company of 300 people still managed over a billion dollars of revenue last year.

Re:Like Most Companies? (1)

blackraven14250 (902843) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064461)

If you read the manual, the interview process is entirely handled by random individuals within the company.

Re:Like Most Companies? (1)

Kjella (173770) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064227)

Isn't this how most companies work? In order to get anything done, you form an ad-hoc group of capable people to work on a project. Seems to me the only difference is that in a normal company that group then has to figure out how to outflank the management hierarchy in order to complete the project, whereas this model skips that step.

The difference is that games don't really care much about the past or the future, what the prequel did and what the sequel might do is practically irrelevant, you build a new game, ship it, support it, scrap it. Meanwhile most other companies are working on version X+1 of their software that they'd like to upgrade from version X or X-1 and move in the right direction for X+2 with most code surviving from one version to another, upgrade paths and existing behavior must be preserved and so on. Yes you still have new development teams but they're much more constricted than what an ad hoc game development group can come up with simply because it's fun to play. I just don't see regular software working all that well with Valve's model.

Re:Like Most Companies? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064331)

Well first of all, Valve also has Steam, which is very much "regular software" with a continued update cycle.

More significantly, they also have TF2 and Dota 2, both games that receive updates (both bugfixes and significant content additions) extremely frequently. So while I would imagine having to provide enterprise-like support under the Valve structure would be more difficult, I'd say it's rather inaccurate to say that "games don't really care much about the past or the future".

Re:Like Most Companies? (1)

ynp7 (1786468) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064469)

So Valve aren't working on version X+1 of the Source engine? That's a weird thing to imply.

Theory Y organizations (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064081)

WL Gore & Associates, which makes Gore-tex and applies the similar technology across dozens of other industries from medical devices to space suits and military gear, also operates as a (very successful) Theory Y organization.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_X_and_theory_Y#Theory_Y

The game of Survivor (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064085)

If you think about how they describe pushing out people that "don't fit" by group consensus, you quickly begin to see how such a workplace is actually fairly toxic. Everyone would be trying hard to get along and not piss anyone off, because, like on the reality show Survivor, once the team gets a bug in their bonnet for you, you're gone, despite your productivity or ethics. It also leads to monocultures - people will want to hire and work with people like them, the complete opposite of diversity hiring. I would be interested to see the cultural vectors for Valve. I'm betting they don't have a lot of ethnic minorities or women working there.

Re:The game of Survivor (2)

swalve (1980968) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064393)

Yes, that's the impression I get from these types of organizations. They have the freedom to choose and eliminate the members of their "tribe", so it can only work in artificial environments. I suspect this model can't work in other more competitive industries. Imagine trying to order a meal in a restaurant being run this way. It would go out of business before you finish the cheese course.

Re:The game of Survivor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064473)

Of course they don't have a lot of ethnic minorities or women; they're a video game company.

Most video game players are white males and East Asian males. Wanna bet that white males and East Asian males also make up most of Valve's employees?

Re:The game of Survivor (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064477)

If you think about how they describe pushing out people that "don't fit" by group consensus, you quickly begin to see how such a workplace is actually fairly toxic. Everyone would be trying hard to get along and not piss anyone off, because, like on the reality show Survivor, once the team gets a bug in their bonnet for you, you're gone, despite your productivity or ethics. It also leads to monocultures - people will want to hire and work with people like them, the complete opposite of diversity hiring. I would be interested to see the cultural vectors for Valve. I'm betting they don't have a lot of ethnic minorities or women working there.

You've basically just described Amazon, except they have all of those corporate hierarchies.

Re:The game of Survivor (0)

oic0 (1864384) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064499)

I know modern society preaches diversity above all else, but in the real world it means little.

Valve Handbook (5, Informative)

bwhaley (410361) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064091)

Valve addresses this very question in the Handbook for New Employees: [sbnation.com]

Q: If all this stuff has worked well for us, why doesn’t every company
work this way?

A: Well, it’s really hard. Mainly because, from day one, it requires a
commitment to hiring in a way that’s very different from the way most
companies hire. It also requires the discipline to make the design of
the company more important than any one short-term business goal.
And it requires a great deal of freedom from outside pressure—being
self-funded was key. And having a founder who was confident enough
to build this kind of place is rare, indeed.

Another reason that it’s hard to run a company this way is that it
requires vigilance. It’s a one-way trip if the core values change, and
maintaining them requires the full commitment of everyone—
especially those who’ve been here the longest. For “senior” people
at most companies, accumulating more power and/or money over
time happens by adopting a more hierarchical culture.

No, but... (4, Interesting)

Sparton (1358159) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064101)

The short answer is no.

The long answer is probably no, as you need a certain mix of incredibly talented people with very specific attributes. Valve is notorious for only hiring the absolute best, going for those with wide specialist knowledge (but shallow knowledge of all other aspects of game development... some kind of "T" metaphor is used by them?), and ensuring everyone they hire can be an effective leader/is capable of following an effective leader when needs be. And you can't just have a few people with those attributes; everyone in the company has to be like that.

If you can hire only people that meet the above qualifications, then sure, you could make another Valve. But it's a very difficult (or at least expensive) proposition, and no doubt incredibly challenging to scale.

Re:No, but... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064153)

+1. Valve is hiring some of the best people in the world.

Re:No, but... (1)

eulernet (1132389) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064185)

They only hire people who could be entrepreneurs.

To be able to do something similar, you need to propose a big salary, complete freedom in the work, etc...

As you said, only a small minority of people are able to meet these criteria.

Re:No, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064289)

The short answer is yes, The long answer is hell yes.

This model is being used EVERYWHERE right now. Heinz has been doing it forever.

It requires the right kind people (5, Interesting)

gweihir (88907) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064113)

If you have the right kind of people, namely competent, motivated, result oriented professionals, that do not care one bit for power, but are willing to assume it temporarily in order to take responsibility for a specific part of a project (only to relinquish it freely afterwards), then this works very well indeed.

The two reasons for people to go into management are absent here
1. Incompetence: Doing management is often a way for people that have no real skills with regard to the product being made to join or stay in an organization.
2. Lust for power: The other primary motivation for going into management is wanting to tell others what to do.

In bad managers (the predominant type), both things combine. Good engineers, artists, writers, etc. almost universally want to practice their craft and get better at it. Doing any management-like function is something they will only do willingly (and temporarily) for the greater good and never as their sole function. If you have such a pool of people, the only permanent (but critical) management function to remain is to make sure nobody incompetent at or not passionate for their (non-management) job and nobody with lust for power joins the team. People that are passionate about what they do are easy to identify. Skill is harder, but doable if you invest some time to find out. Lust for power is still harder, but people that have gotten good as their primary competency rarely have it as it gets into the way.

This also means that most companies cannot use this model, as they have been taken over a long time ago with those of no valuable skills and/or a craving for power and, from my observation, usually have quite a few incompetent non-managers in addition.

Re:It requires the right kind people (4, Insightful)

tompaulco (629533) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064303)

The two reasons for people to go into management are absent here 1. Incompetence: Doing management is often a way for people that have no real skills with regard to the product being made to join or stay in an organization. 2. Lust for power: The other primary motivation for going into management is wanting to tell others what to do.

In bad managers (the predominant type), both things combine. Good engineers, artists, writers, etc. almost universally want to practice their craft and get better at it. Doing any management-like function is something they will only do willingly (and temporarily) for the greater good and never as their sole function. If you have such a pool of people, the only permanent (but critical) management function to remain is to make sure nobody incompetent at or not passionate for their (non-management) job and nobody with lust for power joins the team. People that are passionate about what they do are easy to identify. Skill is harder, but doable if you invest some time to find out. Lust for power is still harder, but people that have gotten good as their primary competency rarely have it as it gets into the way.

This also means that most companies cannot use this model, as they have been taken over a long time ago with those of no valuable skills and/or a craving for power and, from my observation, usually have quite a few incompetent non-managers in addition.

I submit that the most common reason why technical people go into management is not listed. That is: HR puts an arbitrary cap on what technical people can make and it is less than what managers make. In order to progress in your career and make more money, you have to go into management, and therefor remove yourself from the productivity pool. It seems counter-intuitive, but most everything that companies do is counter-intuitive.

Re:It requires the right kind people (1)

gweihir (88907) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064493)

I would dispute this. People with enthusiasm for their craft regard money as secondary or unimportant. (Yes, even in the materialistic USA, this is true.) Exception: If you actually need the money, but then the decision is forced.

No (5, Interesting)

astralagos (740055) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064131)

If you read Varoufakis essay pointed to there, he'll note that Valve's own management doesn't believe the company will be able to scale. More importantly, he notes that the employment process is self-selecting, and that's the rub. I found a Forbes article [forbes.com] which estimates that Google makes a profit of 350k per head, while Valve's is in the 87.5 million per head -- that's an estimate, but even if it's one twentieth, it's still ridiculous. Valve is in a unique position due to steam -- its a publishing house which effectively monopolizes PC digital distribution. They roll in so much money that they can run the company as an anarcho-syndicalist commune, a democracy, or by pulling suggestions out of a hat. They're very lucky that way and rolled the dice well -- most game studios pushing for artistic integrity have ended up as EA subdivisions for a good reason.

Running a real company or a real government requires dealing with people who don't want to be there. Not everybody wants a career, some people just want jobs. They want to punch the clock and go home. Some people steal habitually from the till. Had I my druthers, I'd spend all day at home reading, and I'm considered a sociopathic workaholic. Some people are going to cheat. Some people are going to lie on their interviews. The test of any organization isn't how it does when it's doing well, it's how it does when its under extreme stress. Valve hasn't been under extreme stress, so the question of the effectiveness of their organization is effectively mooted. We can look to other game companies with strong egos (Origin for example, or Ion Storm) and get a good idea, though.

Fairy Tales... (2)

mizkitty (786078) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064133)

Who authorized all the recent "layoffs" ?

Re:Fairy Tales... (3, Insightful)

rudy_wayne (414635) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064211)

Who authorized all the recent "layoffs" ?

Exactly.

The claim that there are "no bosses" is complete rubbish. There has to be a few people in charge who make decisions and act as the final authority when a group of people cannot agree about something. Otherwise, nothing would ever get done due to the fact that people are horribly imperfect.

Should we hire this person? What if the "group consensus" is that they don't like him because of his race? Who's going to tell them thats illegal?
Do we need to buy some new servers? What should we buy? How much should we charge for this latest game?

Somebody has to make those decisions. And a few million more. They might not actually have a job title with "boss" or "manager" in it, but they are still bosses and managers.

Re:Fairy Tales... (2)

Jaktar (975138) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064265)

You can find a copy of the 2012 Valve employee handbook floating around the net.

Yes, they have no bosses. Everyone is peer-review rated.

As the Valve handbook states: Of all the people who are not your boss, Gabe Newell is the most not your boss....if you catch their meaning there.

So, the layoffs likely came straight from the horses mouth and probably on the recommendation of all of their peers.

Here's one link that should lead you to the handbook. It's a fascinating read.
http://thenextweb.com/shareables/2012/04/21/valves-new-employee-handbook-is-as-inspiring-as-the-games-it-makes/ [thenextweb.com]

Re:Fairy Tales... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064361)

>What if the "group consensus" is that they don't like him because of his race?

Not hiring stupid people would eliminate that possibility, and it sounds like they're very selective in their hiring.

The answer yes, sometimes, but almost always not. (1)

FlyingGuy (989135) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064145)

So while my answer might seem quite pessimistic, I think, and sadly, it is true because much like Communism it works fine on paper but almost never in practice and happily Valve has found one of those rare exceptions in time when it does.

Re:The answer yes, sometimes, but almost always no (2)

turbidostato (878842) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064221)

"I think, and sadly, it is true because much like Communism it works fine on paper but almost never in practice"

Quite an interesting comparation because then, how is it that the vast majority of companies are governed by Communism, just the Soviet Russia style?

Re:The answer yes, sometimes, but almost always no (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064233)

Valve would be an exception if they were actually funded by their own products.

In reality they're only able to do whatever they please for as long as they please because they're taking 20-30% of the top of nearly an entire market... which is actually a lot like the way that communism "works" in the real world too.

From each according to their ability. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064257)

... much like Communism it works fine on paper but almost never in practice ...

Whaddya mean communism almost never works in practice? I'm sitting on a Linux box right now as I type this RIGHT NOW!

If they had a boss.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064151)

If they had a boss, perhaps they could finally count to three!

Nope (3, Interesting)

Michalson (638911) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064163)

Valve has been in the unique position of having some hit titles in the past that they had good publishing deals on. That's given them the financial cushion to run things however they wanted with whomever they wanted, without any of those pesky obligations most developers have to meet to pay the bills. And then of course they stumbled onto Steam, the patching platform turned online store where they get a cut of all the other developers profits.

To highlight a similar scenario, 3D Realms was able to dick around for almost 15 years (1996-2009) thanks to the big pot of cash they had from the first Duke 3D game and a few farmed out expansions. We know for sure now that those years where not spent under some masterful system of management creating the most polished game ever, they where terribly managed years in which the same game was reinvented every 4-6 months everytime Broussard saw a new game.

Valve management is certainly not the disaster that was 3D Realms, but at the same time it's very hard to apply their near-zero management style without also having access to their near-zero financial obligations. Valve can afford to mess around in the kitchen for years tossing meal after meal into the garbage until they have something they like. Other developers have to feed their family tonight.

So I guess what I'm saying is that regardless of whether the bossless model works for Valve, other companies have to actually produce games on time and on budget. Where exactly is Half Life 3...

Like governments, management styles may vary (1)

Lohrno (670867) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064181)

I think the best management style is like the best government for a country. It's not necessarily about which one is best, it's about which one is best for that particular group of people.

ParEcon, perhaps? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064183)

Participatory Economics [wikipedia.org] , perhaps?

No (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064197)

For any company that actually wants to be productive? No. The fact that they don't actually seem to do anything besides sell other people's shit anymore bears that out.

But when your primary business model is a fanboy-powered perpetual motion machine, it doesn't terribly matter what you do so long as you keep the masses stocked with achievements and discounts on other people's shit.

Re:No (2)

Pino Grigio (2232472) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064411)

I'm really not sure what you're talking about. Here's the list of Valve games:

Half-Life
Team Fortress Classic
Half-Life: Opposing Force
Deathmatch Classic
Ricochet
Counter-Strike
Half-Life: Blue Shift
Half-Life: Decay
Day of Defeat
Counter-Strike: Condition Zero
Half-Life: Source
Counter-Strike: Source
Half-Life 2
Half-Life 2: Deathmatch
Half-Life Deathmatch: Source
Day of Defeat: Source
Half-Life 2: Lost Coast
Half-Life 2: Episode One
Half-Life 2: Episode Two
Portal
Team Fortress 2
Left 4 Dead
Left 4 Dead 2
Alien Swarm
Portal 2
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Dota 2

Do that look like "they don't actually seem to do anything"? Who knows what they're got in development (Half-Life 3 is probably in there too). Portal 2 was a fantastic game. Team Fortress 2 is one of the best online muti-player shooters out there and it's still going strong (I've been playing it since release and I still love it).

We can't all be above average (2)

egcagrac0 (1410377) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064213)

It's easy to get by with less management if the team is more capable.

The common hierarchical management systems are better suited to organizing groups of people towards achieving a common goal when those people aren't all above average.

Re:We can't all be above average (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064267)

[Citation Needed]

Re:We can't all be above average (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064373)

We can't all be above average, but that isn't the requirement. What is required is for people on the team to pay attention to how they fit in, do what needs to be done, not sit around waiting for someone to tell them what to do, etc. In otherwords, everyone on the team needs to have the skills of a manager. That's much more achievable than above average.

self-managed teams (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064215)

The idea goes back at least two decades in the tech industry, probably more if you count research-oriented institutions like Bell Labs.

I think it works best in companies where all of the following is true: 1) the pace of technology is moving swiftly and is interesting work, 2) there is not a heavy continuing engineering/customer support role that the engineers are required to pay attention to, 3) the competition and deadlines are obvious, 4) the team is mostly under one roof, 5) there is sufficient funding in the short term that the team has adequate resources and layoffs aren't an immediate issue, 6) senior management is confident that if the development team succeeds, there will be ample financial reward for the shareholders, 7) senior management is not populated primarily by financial/sales/legal types who are concerned mostly about showing increasing quarterly earnings, 8) there are strong architects and technical leaders who aren't jerks and are respected by the rest of the team, and 9) there is a quorum of experienced, motivated engineers who don't require hand holding.

If any of those assumptions become invalid, then bye bye self-managed teams.

No it can't work (everywhere; by default) (1)

betelgeuse68 (230611) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064223)

Valve hires incredibly self-motivated and talented people. Most people are *NOT* incredibly self-motivated so taking Valve as a role model for the rest of workplace environments is utter foolishness. As the late and famous physicist Einstein once eluded to, the only thing larger than the universe is human stupidity, that's what you're drawing from if you try to think "big picture". So um, no.

Yes (2)

WorBlux (1751716) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064237)

I mean it works for a tomato company in Florida (Morning Star), it can work for just about anything, but it takes a lot of time to cultivate the culture, and you've got to have the right people initially for it to work.

there are communes that work to varying extents (1)

Trepidity (597) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064239)

The Israeli kibbutzim are some of the longer-lasting ones.

Voting for salary increases? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064241)

If there is no hierarchy I wonder how they decide on raises...a vote?

There's oil in that thair managment. (1)

Ostracus (1354233) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064249)

"I just listened to a fascinating podcast with Valve's economist-in-residence, Yanis Varoufakis, about the unusual structure of the workplace at Valve where there is no hierarchy or bosses.

Can't remember the book, but there was a Brazilian oil company that had a similar structure.

face to face collaboration (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064259)

I spent the weekend thinking about the Marissa Mayer's decision to bring people back in the office. Is this what she's trying to create? Spontaneous ideas when you meed in the hall or break room?

Or, is valve's style of management (or the lack thereof) possible via telecommuting? Granted, this is a different stage of creativity - the inception. This isn't at a stage where the idea and the rough architecture is already in place.

Brainstorming.

Not Everything That Is Not Top-Down is Hayekian (2)

shawnap (959909) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064315)

Although I have some political differences with Russ Roberts, I'm a fan of his podcast. The guests and the discussion are usually interesting (this guy included).

One thing that drives me nuts though, is Robert's eagerness to call anything that's not obviously a top-down process 'Hayekian'. If Roberts had his way, people would try to get their video to 'go Hayek' to support their 'Hayek-starter' project about 'Hayek-oriented programming'.

why valve gets things done on schedule (1)

v1 (525388) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064333)

Because they don't follow the Dilbert Principle [dilbert.com] to manage the project schedule.

It could work for Mobile Development (1)

miroku000 (2791465) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064369)

Many mobile apps are created by a single developer. So, certainly many of them could be done with a small team. If the projects are small enough, then it makes sense for you to not have an artist (for example) 100% dedicated to a single project. With large projects, there is a lot of learning about the domain specific requirements and the code base and how everything fits together. But, in a smaller project, a new developer who is competent can get up to speed quickly.

Careful (2)

Murdoch5 (1563847) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064377)

If you have a great team that can gel together then sure. A good team is like a well functioning machine that doesn't break down. The problem comes when you have team members who want to steal the spot light and not work with others.

In my last big project we had two members who felt they were the next big Nobel prize engineers, however really they just screwed large portions of the project, they fought the documentation and the requirements and they felt they were above everyone else. That kind of group can't work with out higher management getting involved.

Once they were axed from the project the entire team became a smooth machine, each member knowing what the others were working on. We had smooth integration, smooth code reviews and a great release. Management only got involved at the end to thank us.

So yes and no, management free company's can work in certain cases, in most cases I would never recommend it.

See Michael O.Church's blog (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064409)

Michael O.Church has blogged a lot about the "open allocation" model used by Value. A LOT. Like a TL;DR lot. But if you're into thinking deeply about these things, go read his blog.

http://michaelochurch.wordpress.com/ [wordpress.com]

Yes, a bossless workplace can work. (5, Interesting)

greenguy (162630) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064415)

There's an entire business model based on operating a business with no boss -- it's called [nytimes.com] a worker [wikipedia.org] cooperative [usworker.coop] . As a founder and member of one, and a friend of dozens more, I'm here to say that it works.

The existence of one bossless model makes it easy to believe that others could exist. The presence of an authority figure, or of any kind of hierarchy, is not a requirement for business success. This isn't speculation -- there's proof in black and white.

Team VS. Group (1)

jamej (543667) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064431)

We are so emmersed in top down organization we don't even notice the word team implies leadership and a top down organization. The word to describe the organization we're discussing is groups. The programers work in groups to accomplish their tasks. Group work is very hard but really worth it - I've done it and we were able to accomplish significant things rapidly.

That explains it (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064449)

I guess this is why we do not see bug fixes for Valve created games, or for the Steam client for that matter. Though they're more than able to create yet another method to take more money from people, *cough*marketplace*cough*.

Fuck you, Valve. Fuck you, Gabe. And fuck you and your DRM, Steam.

Does it really work? HL3 anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064483)

Just sayin'

Bossless my ass. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064489)

If you expect me to think gabe newell isnt the boss, or a boss then you should go into business selling what youre smoking. Bossless would mean no chain of command, no management, no nothing. The entire place would be chaos. Idiot ideas would get implimented everyday with no one to say no, no one to decide who is hired and fired, work wouldnt get done without a chain of command. The concept of a bossless workplace is stupid and does not happen, valve although will allow this rumor to run rampant because valve wants to be seen as this shining gem of a company, some utopia and so on. Thats valves thing, they let the fans put them up on a pedastal and praise them but they dont actually do anything to be worthy of said praise. Its just their fans want so badly to elevate them they do so with no real foundation.

Valve is a really low producing company. They dont do shit really. Steam is their bread and butter but it is built entirely on other companies and developers. Steam itself is a slow and poorly designed store for others to sell their products on. There is no great mystery to it, nothing that somehow makes them better than other companies or magically untouchable. Its just simply a store.

They dont make hardly any games themselves. Like they branded left 4 dead as a valve game despite the fact turtle rock actually made the game but they have no problems with slapping their name on it, they bill counter strike as their own game even though it was a independant mod to begin with, they try and make dota2 sound like its entirely theirs even though its originally a independant mod made by someone else and so on.

The few games they actually do make are sequels to someone elses game that isnt as good as the original, or its them just pimping out the same tired games they have been doing for a decade. Portal and portal 2 were the only good games they ever put out that lived up to this name valve as created for themselves.

And what are they working on now? Eh steambox. They basically took other peoples idea of creating a small inexpensive linux box you can hook to your tv. This idea was pitched many times by other companies and even the ouya was announced on kicstarter long before valve said they were doing it. Only difference is? Steam runs on it. Woopie, they took someone elses idea and put steam on it.

But like I said gabe and other people at valve will talk about this bossless idea and I guarntee you their answers will be vauge, non commital and pretty much them talking a lot, giving a lot of what ifs but at the end they wont actually say anything.

Does it even work for valve? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064517)

I know valve has made some great games but really if it works that well wheres Half Life Episode 3?

Been bossless can be beneficial in some regards like creativity but detrimental in others ways like getting a team to actually finish a game.

it works for smaller / local companies (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | about a year and a half ago | (#43064527)

our company is like that, we have "bosses", but they are more focused on how to grow the company, gain new contracts, keep the money flowing in the right direction, but most of us are our own managers, and once a quarter we do a MBO excercise (management by objective) with our teams to make sure everyone is heading in the same direction of the company goals.

But its a lot easier when your desk is within earshot, of the owners and presidents, not so much when you have a multinational conglomerate with hundreds of offices spread across the world all with different goals and reasons for existing.

So can it work for other tech companies? yes, will it work for all of them, no ... welcome to the world n00b.

BS (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43064545)

To claim there is no hierarchical structure of any kind at Valve is complete and utter bullshit. Who interviews? Who makes sure Legal's decisions are implemented? Who manages payroll? Who manages salaries? Who gives raises?

Stupid feel good bullshit. Like Google.

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