Uncharted Waters

Jun 22 2015   8:12AM GMT

Management Lessons From Imgur

Justin Rohrman Justin Rohrman Profile: Justin Rohrman


Over the weekend, I came across this article from someone that recently left Imgur on 21 lessons they learned while in that position. A few things stood out to me.

First was that the author had held the position for less than a year and was a very recent college grad. That was a good reminder of how many lessons fly at you in that first few months at a company, and especially when the environment is all together new to you.

The second thing is only obvious to me after spending so much time looking at new management strategies. The lessons there come form an organization that is using very traditional management techniques.

Lets take a look at how this list might be different with some other management ideas mixed in.

A lot of traditional, or maybe average management, is based on creating a separation between the people that do the work and everyone else in the company. This is done with regularly scheduled feedback from the manager to the worker, usually in the form of a 1-on-1 meeting where the person in charge critiques someones work. There is a clear flow of power and it is obvious who has it and who doesn’t.


I can see hints of that in this article from mentions of reviews, decision making as a role in management but not necessarily empowerment, and very little in the way of working with people and facilitating them to get stuff done.

What Is The Point

Contrast those elements about instructing work and controlling the flow of power with a folk story about how lean was implemented in a factory. I have read in a few different books that when arriving at a new shop, Taiichi Ohno would usually meet a manager that had problems with production and efficiency, but had no clue where to start.

Taiichi would draw a circle on the floor in the middle of the shop and tell the manager to stand there and not leave for the entire day. Of course, every single time, the manager now had a few ideas of how things could be improved.

Maybe inventory could be managed better for this person so they didn’t have to spend half the day waiting around to do their job. Maybe some other person could be moved closer to the things they needed to do their job to help they get it done a little faster and more easily.

The workers were being paid attention to for the first time rather than waiting till the scheduled 1-on-1 to get feedback. And it certainly wasn’t the case that it was so they felt like they were being listened to (See lesson 7). They were really being listened to.

Lesson 16 on defining clear merit based systems and lesson 13 on being  self-aware feel like they are in conflict. Most merit based systems are developed out of pure bias. What I mean by that, is that the manager promotes people based on the behavior they like to see.

People are disappointed pretty often by merit based systems. Programmers will spend their days learning the latest and greatest javascript framework and trying out whatever the new flavor of X Driven Development and expect to be rewarded for that. Managers are usually look for things that will lead to them getting a bonus though. Everyone has displaced goals.

As far as I can tell, the only real merit based system is something like “Did you ship good software, and a lot of it”

The lessons this person learned while working are of course valid to his personal experience and his journey in management if he continues to pursue that, but I wonder they will actually serve the people doing the work.

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