Insider Spills Beans on Valve's Bossless Culture

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Insider Spills Beans on Valve's Bossless Culture

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Jason Holtman says even Gabe Newell isn't his boss at Valve.

When Valve's employee handbook came out a short while back, there were plenty of people who thought it had to be a joke. No bosses? Really? Every organization has to have a structure, and someone's got to be in charge. How could you let employees just wander around and choose their own projects, with no oversight from on high? Yet Jason Holtman, Valve's Director of Business Development, has confirmed that it really is so, and that even Gabe Newell himself isn't the boss of Valve.

"One of the interesting things is, people like Gabe," Holtman says, "they're very good at their jobs. You have to fight against the tendency to have those people treated as bosses sometimes." This struggle against that tendency, Holtman argues, is what makes Valve a success; the fight keeps you keenly aware of the actual purpose of the group, which then keeps the project on track.

"Gabe moves around in groups and sits with us and talks with us," Holtman said as he described the role Valve's founder plays. "He goes to meetings with us, solves real problems with us, and has ideas and his ideas are like other ideas. You can easily say no, or tell more data on that and he'll work with you." If the bossless idea is to have any chance at all it has to be taken deadly seriously, and that means Newell is no more in charge than any other member of the company.

Holtman acknowledges that this can be a problem for new hires, used to the more rigid corporate structures found at other development companies. Some just can't handle the Valve culture, but when it works, Holtman claims, "it's totally worth it." Adherence to a bossless structure doesn't mean there's no organization at Valve. "It's not as if we're all waiting around and just waiting for [something] to organically emerge," Holtman says, "people will emerge as leaders and take on the function of leadership ... [but] they're not bosses. They're just people who can help you with this."

As for Half Life 3 - always a concern for Valve fans - Holtman had no comment.

Source: Eurogamer

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That kind of sounds like how my company lets me run my field reapir/sales team. They hire someone in and they get put with someone to shadow for a few weeks of on the job training. After they have a grasp on things they are free to pick and choose which of the available field assignments they want off our assignment board.

Some people like being on the road and being gone for multiple days at a time and there are some who like the closer assignments that only last a day or two. As long as you have a good group of people that know what needs to be done and see that it is you typically don't have many problems letting people manage themselves.

But doesn't it say in the handbook something like "There are no bosses at Valve, and out of all the people who aren't your boss, Gabe Newell is your biggest not-boss."? So it's not like it's complete anarchy. Sounds to me like they have people who are designated to take charge when needs be.

There's an almost a suspicious amount of content promoting Valve around here lately.

Clearing the Eye:
There's an almost a suspicious amount of content promoting Valve around here lately.

That is because they keep doing a great job and make the rest of the industry look like monsters.

Exterminas:

Clearing the Eye:
There's an almost a suspicious amount of content promoting Valve around here lately.

That is because they keep doing a great job and make the rest of the industry look like monsters.

More or less this. People hate on Valve fanboys but they really are the only big developer really getting it right

Clearing the Eye:
There's an almost a suspicious amount of content promoting Valve around here lately.

Tell me about it. I can almost predict the next article:

"Valve employee sneezes in GLORIOUS manner."

It may work for them in general, but it also causes some major ridiculousness. Like a living room UI taking a YEAR to deliver after announcement. Or one mediocre L4D map being in beta for close to two years. A lot of stuff falls to the wayside.

On the other hand, they release plenty of awesome games.

Mr Cwtchy:

Clearing the Eye:
There's an almost a suspicious amount of content promoting Valve around here lately.

Tell me about it. I can almost predict the next article:

"Valve employee sneezes in GLORIOUS manner."

Just replace all of them with Gabe.

That would be terrifying...

If you're good at your job, you shouldn't need someone telling you what to do. All the vast majority of CEOs are good for is blowing the money you earned them on hookers and blow and shipping jobs to China. You can't even trust them to sabotage elections properly anymore!

We have no leader, but Gabelak Newmane is our Harbinger. We haven't had a true leader since Mikesgramor Harrington.

Toasty Virus:

Exterminas:

Clearing the Eye:
There's an almost a suspicious amount of content promoting Valve around here lately.

That is because they keep doing a great job and make the rest of the industry look like monsters.

More or less this. People hate on Valve fanboys but they really are the only big developer really getting it right

Pretty much this. Valve has found a proper way to do business. Companies would have you believe that you need a boss babysitting you to do your job, that a producer is needed in a development team even though no one knows exactly what they do. When I see valve doing it right I think about Extra Credits trying to tackle this subject and provide no solutions.

http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/so-you-want-to-be-a-producer

http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/working-conditions

The things that these two video's talk about are completely unnecessary contrary to what publishers would have you believe.

I hope valve continues to get it right.

Karloff:
snip

I'm not sure I still hear "bossless" when I hear this described. I hear this as more of a "confederation of independent sections/employees." Each piece has a "main brain," or basically a boss, but more local control means more flexibility and trust.

Basically, it's the "executives" recognizing that they have hired an expert to do a job, and trusting that expert to do the job.

ASIDE:

I'd love to have more of that in other areas, like education. As a teacher, I've studied my ass off to be an expert in not just my content area, but how best to teach it, how children learn, and how to structure my curriculum so that it prepares students for the next level and beyond. And none of that matters, because I have three bosses (none of whom know a thing about my curriculum area) that all have ten bosses (school board) that'll tell me how to do the job.

Sounds like a great system. I personally see why this works so well, and probably plays a HUGE part in why Valve doesn't have the same marketing and publishing flaws that litter today's industry.

GAunderrated:

Toasty Virus:

Exterminas:

That is because they keep doing a great job and make the rest of the industry look like monsters.

More or less this. People hate on Valve fanboys but they really are the only big developer really getting it right

Pretty much this. Valve has found a proper way to do business. Companies would have you believe that you need a boss babysitting you to do your job, that a producer is needed in a development team even though no one knows exactly what they do. When I see valve doing it right I think about Extra Credits trying to tackle this subject and provide no solutions.

http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/so-you-want-to-be-a-producer

http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/working-conditions

The things that these two video's talk about are completely unnecessary contrary to what publishers would have you believe.

I hope valve continues to get it right.

I don't really follow your point. Valve has a no boss system, yes, but...Producers are still there. As said in the very video you posted. "You aren't there to be a boss...You are a connection point between the other teams to make sure everything runs smoothly."

So basically Valve is a working anarchy?

Outside of the US, and by most individuals that self-identify as anarchists, it implies a system of governance, mostly theoretical at a nation state level although there are a few successful historical examples,[5] that goes to lengths to avoid the use of coercion, violence, force and authority, while still producing a productive and desirable society.[6]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarchy

Valve and CD ProjektRED are the only companies that give me hope when it comes to the gaming industry (as a machine, not as "ZOMG WUT AN AWSUM GAME!!").

That being said... HURRY THE FUCK UP WITH HALF LIFE 3!!!! At least leak an alpha version like last time. People are going to buy it like bread anyway.

Mortamus:
Sounds like a great system. I personally see why this works so well, and probably plays a HUGE part in why Valve doesn't have the same marketing and publishing flaws that litter today's industry.

But it does have some publishing drawbacks of it's own. For instance, I wonder if the reason that we haven't seen Half-Life 3 (or episode 3) is that people aren't ready to take the risk of such a high-profile game, and there is no one to force them to hold together when the going gets tough/boring and people drift to other easier/more fun projects.

I think it's a neat system, but I hope that there is more oversight than the article implies.

This is a company that doesn't have to lay people off and makes lots of great products. The lack of control might seem scary but clearly they are doing something right.

No wonder it takes them for freaking ever to do anything; no one's around to tell them to get off their asses and stop playing with themselves

Aiddon:
No wonder it takes them for freaking ever to do anything; no one's around to tell them to get off their asses and stop playing with themselves

Don't be daft; the employee handbook was also very clear on how people get fired. They do have frequent peer reviews.

Valve makes a good creative precedent that in a society of capable and responsible individuals, anarchy is the best form of "organization".

Unfortunately most societies do not consist exclusively of capable and responsible individuals, which is why the rest of us will have to make due with democracy (at best) and be ruled by the dumb, impressionable masses.

Yipiee.

GAunderrated:

Toasty Virus:

Exterminas:

That is because they keep doing a great job and make the rest of the industry look like monsters.

More or less this. People hate on Valve fanboys but they really are the only big developer really getting it right

Pretty much this. Valve has found a proper way to do business. Companies would have you believe that you need a boss babysitting you to do your job, that a producer is needed in a development team even though no one knows exactly what they do. When I see valve doing it right I think about Extra Credits trying to tackle this subject and provide no solutions.

http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/so-you-want-to-be-a-producer

http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/working-conditions

The things that these two video's talk about are completely unnecessary contrary to what publishers would have you believe.

I hope valve continues to get it right.

The thing is, VALVe can afford to have an internal organization like this due to STEAM and their games (but mostly STEAM). The reason why they haven't gone full blown EA is that they've forcibly limited their numbers to keep from getting too big for its britches. For the majority of companies, publishers, producers, etc... bosses and structure are necessary to keep a project on track and within budget constraints. And even crunch time has its place in that system (though the extremely harsh crunch time that we've seen recently is absolutely unacceptable and is a huge flaw with the structured system).

As much as we would love for companies to do this, few publishers are willing to stick to a developer if they take 12 years to deliver a single title as VALVe (TF2) or, say, Blizzard (Diablo 3) have done. It's just not practical.

--.

Mr Cwtchy:

Clearing the Eye:
There's an almost a suspicious amount of content promoting Valve around here lately.

Tell me about it. I can almost predict the next article:

"Valve employee sneezes in GLORIOUS manner."

I can't resist, because this is very relevant (and glorious):

Saying they have no boss(es) is them being hipsters about it, but I regardless appreciate that they trust people to do their jobs without having some yahoo constantly looking over their shoulder and forcing them into weekly meetings about the company's core values and the like.

Genuine Evil:

Marik2:
So basically Valve is a working anarchy?

Outside of the US, and by most individuals that self-identify as anarchists, it implies a system of governance, mostly theoretical at a nation state level although there are a few successful historical examples,[5] that goes to lengths to avoid the use of coercion, violence, force and authority, while still producing a productive and desirable society.[6]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarchy

I was just about to write this .
I don't count myself an Anarchist but I do find the broad strokes of Anarchy appealing, so to see one of my favored companies working by a similar system is quite a nice feeling .

I see it more democratic than anyhthing, people "vote" with thier work on what projects should get done; Also slightly darwinain because bad projects die, while good projects live

also if you don't do anything, you get fired; so esstially, you're not told to work on one thing; as long as you work, you're fine.

MrGalactus:
We have no leader, but Gabelak Newmane is our Harbinger. We haven't had a true leader since Mikesgramor Harrington.

LOL, this exact reference popped up in my mind the minute I heard "leaderless."

Um i'm just gonna assume whoever sign their paychecks is the boss. Even if you pretend he isn't, when he comes around, you're working :P

The gaming community should start a project, where we try to get a sleeper agent inside Valve. When the time is right, we will activate him. With his charisma and amazing leader abilities, he will get everyone at Valve to work on HL3!

Who's with me?

Ya know Hali life 2 eps are not all that and I can only think HL3 will be more of the same only shinier. So I think I will pass...

Oh and it would be nice if half the time you don't need to be online to go into offline mode....

It's not actually an anarchy due to the employee reviews, firing, etc. However, because the means of production are regulated by the employees as a whole it's definitely socialism in action. That surprises me about a company in the US; a nation whose inhabitants are notorious for confusing or even utterly failing to grasp the concepts of liberal, socialist, & communist.

Karloff:
Jason Holtman, Valve's Director of Business Development

So rather than having bosses, they have directors? Sounds reasonable. Especially seeing as the word "boss" is negatively looked at nowadays. That's all Valve are doing, they're trying to take out all the negativity of a business. Just my two 'cents'.

Jumplion:

As much as we would love for companies to do this, few publishers are willing to stick to a developer if they take 12 years to deliver a single title as VALVe (TF2) or, say, Blizzard (Diablo 3) have done. It's just not practical.

With the exception of 2002, Valve have released either a game or expansion to a game every year since 1998. They are more prolific than Blizzard, its just that some titles take longer to make when people aren't as interested in working on them. Which is a good thing, you can tell when a game has had experts working on it who aren't personally interesting in the project. Those games are mechanically often very good but lack proper soul.

I was actually reading about this in a college course I am taking. It's a somewhat new concept in business management but seems to have some research favoring it in certain situations. As was discussed above, it's not that there is no power structure at all, it just more nebulous. As Holtman states in his article, people tend to emerge and step back as leaders on individual projects.

It seems like the kind of thing that would be interesting to experience, and I'd love to see more research on it.

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