Tuesday, August 10, 2010

One view of how Apple succeeds.

Post 539 - Sachin Agarwal learned a lot about Apple's management style during his days as an engineer. He worked at the company for six years, before leaving to start the simple blogging platform, Posterous. When he left, he made sure to take a few important management lessons with him, and these have helped to make Posterous successful as well. Here are some of Sachin's management lessons:

- Apple is completely run by its engineers. It doesn't have a lot of product management. Most of the project teams are really small, and they’re all driven by the engineers. On top of that, most of the managers are engineers as well, not product people or MBAs. That means that the people overseeing projects understand the technology, what's necessary for the project to succeed, and can really relate to the needs of their team members.

- Because most of the managers have strong engineering backgrounds, there isn't a big division between product managers and 'code monkeys.' There's a lot of respect between the two tiers.

- If employees use a product and find an issue that bothers them, they have the freedom to go and fix it without having to deal with layers of bureaucracy to get approval. All projects are driven by long-term goals, but the best ideas come from the engineers acting on their own initiative.

- Management really challenges people by giving them tasks that are a little beyond their current capabilities. So they learn quickly and many get to manage projects within six months of starting employment. Apple is really good at developing their employees, and giving them the skills they need to rise up within the company.

- Apple requires absolute deadlines, and they never miss them. It doesn’t ship products that aren’t of 'Apple quality,' even if that means cutting something that doesn't make it in time. Especially at a startup, it's easy to keep building and never launch anything. It's better to stick to deadlines and ship, then iterate later.

- Apple doesn’t believe in playing the "feature game" with its products. The company focuses more on its goals for its own products, rather than comparing itself to competitors' and trying to outdo them on the same levels. That mission is deeply ingrained in the culture. Employees aren't focusing on copying what the competition is doing – instead, they're driven to innovate and come up with products that challenge the status quo.

- The people who work at Apple really, really want to be there. That enthusiasm is a key element of the hiring process. Management looks to attract people who are really passionate about the company, its products, and its overall style.

- Apple puts a huge emphasis on work/life balance. Employees are expected to work hard, but the company lets then enjoy their time off on their own. From excellent healthcare to generous office holidays around Christmas and Thanksgiving, people love the type of environment the company provides for its employees.

- Apple keeps winning because it's a giant startup. From its lack of bureaucracy within projects, to its engineer-focused culture, to its emphasis on passionate and loyal employees, the huge company has maintained the corporate culture of its startup days. And that culture is a huge part of what makes it so successful - and, not surprisingly, a good place to work.

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