(2012-04-18) Valve Software Management And Augmented Reality

Michael Abrash on the Organization Model at Valve Software, and his research there into Augmented Reality.

If most of the value is now in the initial creative act, there’s little benefit to traditional hierarchical organization that’s designed to deliver the same thing over and over, making only incremental changes over time. What matters is being first and bootstrapping your product into a positive feedback spiral with a constant stream of creative innovation. Hierarchical Management doesn’t help with that, because it bottlenecks innovation through the people at the top of the hierarchy... it is their responsibility, and theirs alone, to allocate the most valuable resource in the company – their time – by figuring out what it is that they can do that is most valuable for the company, and then to go do it... People commit to projects, and projects are Self Organizing; there are leads, but they’re chosen by informal consensus, there’s no prestige or money attached to the label, and it’s only temporary – a lead is likely to be an individual contributor on their next project. Leads have no authority other than that everyone agrees it will help the project to have them doing coordination. Seems more flexible than an Internal Market.

It all started with SnowCrash. If I hadn’t read it and fallen in love with the idea of the MetaVerse, if it hadn’t made me realize how close networked 3D was to being a reality, if I hadn’t thought I can do that, and more importantly I want to do that, I’d never have embarked on the path that eventually wound up at Valve... By “WearableComputing” I mean mobile computing where both computer-generated graphics and the real world are seamlessly overlaid in your view; there is no separate display that you hold in your hands (think Terminator vision)... What it reminds me of, but on a larger scale, is Quake, where we had to figure out 3D graphics, client-server Internet networking, file formats, pretty much everything from scratch. Indeed, I think this has the potential to be, like Quake, a technological inflection point after which everything has changed... The consensus was that investigating wearable computing was an experiment worth running; the main concern was that the experiment needed to be structured so there were clear tests for success and failure, and so that we’d get useful information in either case. But no one told me what to do, and there were no official approvals that I had to obtain; once I had gathered feedback and thought this through to my satisfaction, I just went ahead and started the project.

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