Book Review: Managing Without Walls

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If you manage remote or satellite teams, this book is a must-read!


I really loved this book!


Over the years, I have managed satellite developers in England, France, India, Australia, and Canada (I'm currently in Southern California). I wish I had read Managing Without Walls years ago, before I started managing remote developers.

Some of the book is based on just pure common sense, like the parts about dealing with time differences, speaking clearly, understanding gestures...the sort of stuff you have to include for completeness. But there is also some real meat here and some genuine insights of the type that you can develop only from having done this type of management for an extended period of time. In particular, I like the section on the stages of cultural adjustment and building multicultural teams. All of my teams went through the exact phases of cultural adjustment outlined in the book. In addition, the idea of celebrating local holidays across the group is an excellent team-building and cultural-learning opportunity. I also like the cookbook-style walkthrough for making the decision of whether to outsource or not. Most of the outsourced projects that I have seen fail could have had their failure predicted by the answers (or lack of answers) to the questions outlined in the book. The book also makes a very clear (and valid) distinction between domestic outsourcing and foreign outsourcing. The decision matrix around which of these solutions you pursue is significantly different.

An interesting, and unexpected, theme of the book is fun and its importance in teambuilding. I encourage my teams to have fun at work and to play well (meaning practical jokes, especially ones where I am the victim). Why? Because as the book points out, a well-executed bit of shenanigans takes a fair amount of teamwork to pull off and—whether it works or not—will generally help pull a team together, even if they are halfway around the world from one another. Most books on management (virtual or not) fail to address or offer good advice on this topic.

Another interesting topic in the book that can normally only be learned through a devastating trial-and-error process is planning for catastrophes. The world that we live in is a dynamic place, and catastrophes threaten our projects from many sides. Having a globally distributed team almost ensures that a catastrophe of one form or another will affect your team at some point in time. In fact, you should be acutely aware of this as part of your risk assessment of the project. The book gives some very pragmatic advice for setting up alternative communication channels and protocols as well as for managing through a catastrophe. Catastrophes will happen, but even a small amount of planning will help your project recover quickly.

If you manage remote or satellite teams, this book is a must-read!