The Menlo Experience – Bringing Joy to Work

I recently visited Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor, MI.  It was a fantastic experience.  I had heard Menlo CEO Rich Sheridan speak at a LPPDE conference last year, and as soon as I heard him, I knew that I should go and visit this amazing organization.

Menlo Innovations is a company that develops custom software for other companies and organizations.  It is named after another innovative organization… Thomas Edison’s labs in Menlo Park, NJ.   It is a relatively young company at just 14 years old, but it has been recognized and awarded many, many times.  They are a small company compared to many others with about 60 employees.  But they have created a breakthrough in software development.  And besides their revolutionary development practices, they have transformed their culture.    You can read about this company in the book written by their CEO, Rich Sheridan, who was also our host for the day.


Joy Inc. by Menlo CEO Richard Sheridan

He talked to extensively about the principles to put Joy in the workplace.  They have hosted 300 companies just this year who have traveled to Ann Arbor to see Menlo first hand.

Here is a list of the Menlo awards in the past two years.


  • WorldBlu List of Most Democratic Workplaces™
  • Inc.’s 5,000 Fastest Growing Private Companies in America (Inc. Magazine)
  • 101 Best & Brightest Companies to Work For – Metro Detroit
  • When Work Works Award (formerly known as Alfred P. Sloan Awards for Excellence in Workplace Effectiveness and Flexibility)
  • Michigan Economic Bright Spots (Corp! Magazine)
  • Gold Breastfeeding Friendly Award (Washtenaw County Breastfeeding Coalition)


  • Alfred P. Sloan Award for Excellence in Workplace Flexibility (When Work Works)
  • Leaders Everywhere Challenge (Management Innovation eXchange)
  • Technology 200 (Lead 411)
  • The Washtenaw Soul Award (Washtenaw Indie Awards – Think Local First)
  • Michigan Economic Bright Spots (Corp! Magazine)
  • WorldBlu List of Most Democratic Workplaces™, Community Voted Top Practice: Integrity
  • Silver Breastfeeding Friendly Award (Washtenaw County Breastfeeding Coalition)

They have changed the way I thought about space, visuals, the development process, and the culture of work.

They have mastered agile software methods and applied many, many concepts that could be called “lean” in their workplace.

Every week they go through a development cycle, or what would be referred to asa Rapid Learning Cycle in Product Development or a Sprint in Information Technology

That means that each week they plan, create unit tests, write code in “pairs”, run thousands of units tests, perform QA testing, and review the software with their clients.   That is a one week development cycle!  They do this as a common practice every week of the year.

That is significant.   Most companies go through very long development cycles that take weeks if not months.

They do all of this in a 40 hour work week, and they do it without anyone working any overtime.  They don’t use email internally and have practically no internal meetings.

How they do it would take pages to describe.  I highly recommend reading the book.

Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love

.   So for now, here is their story in pictures.

They go through a weekly planning game where the content of the projects are planned out for the next week.


The Planning Game

The space is open, but works very well and has less noise than you would imagine. (There is a hard floor, but lots of sound baffles in the ceiling above the lights).


The big open room at Menlo

The individual workers reconfigure the space by moving the light weight aluminum tables, and they do so every week per the needs of the project work.

They use visuals on all the walls and columns to show planned work and the status of work. They have the ultimate Lean Office.

They work using a method called “paired programming” to enhance quality and speed learning.


Paired Programming

There is one scheduled meeting per day.   A stand-up meeting that everyone participates in.


Meno Standup Meeting

It happens each morning at 10:00 am and lasts for no more than 15 minutes.

Here the team doing the work is meeting with the customer/client to review the development from the last week.  The space was reconfigured on the fly for this purpose.


The customer is at the keyboard… not the programmers!

There is so much more to write and tell about.  Everything is quite different: How they estimate and plan.   How they use High-Tech Anthropology to uncover user behavior and requirements.  How they use artifacts in the workplace to signal and trigger activities.  How they cross train and move from project to project every week.  How they have broken down towers of knowledge.

I suggest you make the effort to read about it, go and hear Rich Goebel or James Sheridan from Menlo speak, or even take a trip to Ann Arbor, Mi for one of their tours.

And yes… they do allow babies and dogs in the work place.  Here is Rich Sheridan petting Rusty who is a very friendly dog!


Menlo CEO Rich Sheridan pets Rusty.

Speaking for all of us have gone and seen the environment, I know that we are all eager to “run the experiment” to put Joy in our own workplaces.



About Timothy Schipper

Author and coach on lean

Posted on November 8, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. This sounds like a very innovative method of helping their client. And a 15 minute group meeting per day can produce such “out of the box” ideas. Many minds are obviously better than one. A very lucid and descriptive account of the Menlo experience. Well written, Tim.

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