Books Product management

Book Review: REWORK by 37signals


REWORK is packed with great ideas, advice and experience. Most coming from authors Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson founding and building 37signals. The fact that 37signals is fairly small of course affect their world view. But having worked for small and large corporations my self I strongly believe that the ideas in REWORK are applicable in any environment.

It is an easy read, with crisp, immediately applicable and no-BS advice. Jason and David challenge norms, and question things that today are deeply engrained in business culture. Well structured, this is as close to a how-to-start-a-company-and-make-it-successful cookbook you get.

You will get valuable ideas for how to get started (chapters First and Go), manage the early stages (Progress), do the right things (Productivity, Competition and Evolution), get customers (Promotion), scale (Hiring), handle the inevitable public disasters (Damage control) and finally how to become a place where people want to work (Culture).

It is apparent that Jason and David, and 37 signals, are driven by a couple of strong beliefs. Some obviously contradicting the norm. I already covered their view of competition in Care about your competition?, and below I summarized a few others.

Workaholics, heroes and sleep

Workaholics, “heroes” putting in hours to solve problems by brute force, are discarded. They have a demoralizing effect, but they are also not very efficient. Being small you can never outgun larger players by putting in more hours per person.

For creativity and intelligent problem solving, sleep is crucial. Exhausted people become stupid. And kicking people out at 5pm is actually a good thing. Having life outside of work makes people focused and energized.

Bootstrapping and growth

Todays romanticized idea of a “startup”, a company where growth is everything and revenue doesn’t matter, is completely crushed in REWORK. Getting outside money takes away control from founders and employees. And growing your numbers (employees, top line) has no value in it self.

When you do grow, hire only to “kill pain”. Hire only when absolutely necessary. Consider all other alternatives before hiring. Can you change how you do things? Can you find new tools to help?

Good enough is fine – say no

Learn to say no. As long as you explain why, it is okay. It is also okay to have customers outgrow you. It is more important to have a product that is easy to start using, than one that solves specific needs of power users.

And remember, good enough is fine. Everything does not have to be perfect. It is always possible to improve later, to go from good to great when needed.

Planning is guessing

Admit to your self that your estimates suck. There is no way you can make a precise estimate for tasks that takes months or even years. If you recognize this, you can act accordingly and take estimates for what they are. Guesstimates.

The same goes for planning. Strategic planning, business planning, financial planning. It’s all just guesswork. If you admin that, you help your self by spending appropriate amount of time planning. You also make it easier to change your plans – after all they were just guesses to begin with!

Communicate like a human

Talk to people, don’t talk at them. Large corporations have lawyers, PR agencies and others filtering communicating. For some reason the norm is to use language and expressions that are “professional”. Language that no human would ever use outside of business. A key advantage of being small is that you can avoid this. Talk TO people, communicate with them like human beings.

This goes for when you promote, when you apologize for something that went wrong and when you handle feedback, complaints or support. It also means never spam people with stuff they never asked for (think press releases).

Everyone on the front lines

Interfacing your users and customers is something everyone should be doing. Being exposed to their challenges and pain points helps to get a better understanding of both them and how they use your product.

Not “having time” is not an excuse. Make time. Everyone doesn’t have to handle support tickets or email queries daily, but doing it a couple of times every year gives extremely valuable experience.

TL;DR – Read it!

So what’s my advice?

Running your own company? You should read REWORK!
About to start your own company? You should read REWORK!
Manager at a small company? You should read REWORK!
Manager at a large company? You should read REWORK!
Employee? You should read REWORK!
Student? Read REWORK!

And for the rest of you? Read REWORK! It’s great.


By Alexander Sandstrom

Passionate product manager with a love for technology and innovation. More about me.

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