Sep 18


This is the second article in my series on why we removed all managers at Treehouse. Here are the other articles …

  • Part 1
    • Why we removed our managers
    • What managers actually do
    • What really motivates people
  • Part 2 (this article)
    • How people choose what to work on
    • How priorities are determined
    • How Projects work and what tools we use
    • How budgeting works
  • Part 3
    • How career progression works
    • How compensation works
    • How reviews and discipline work
  • Part 4
    • The tools we use for communication (I only answer around 10 emails per day)
  • Future articles
    • The pros
    • The cons
    • The future

How We Transitioned to No Managers

Once 90% of the company voted to remove management, we started the task of transitioning the company to the new flat structure. The first thing we did was write a huge FAQ for everyone. We did this in Google Docs so people could comment directly in the doc and everyone could see their questions and our following answers. I’ll cover the FAQ content below.

Once the FAQ had been written, Mike Watson created a detailed list of logistical things that needed to happen in order to transition successfully. Example: Who would be doing the backups of our video?

Here’s a simplified version of our FAQ. It will answer many of your questions about how we operate as a #NoManager company.


Projects are the primary unit of work at Treehouse. Anyone can have an idea and propose a Project. Projects do not have to relate to the core expertise you were hired for. Example: A Designer could propose a project to teach a course.

How do Projects work?

If you have an idea …

  1. Open up Flow (our internal tool).
  2. Click ‘Propose a Project’.
  3. Explain the Project goals.
  4. Determine how you will measure success. We encourage you to use measurable statistics and metrics.
  5. Choose a Focus Area (Education, Marketing, Finance, etc)
  6. Add the Team roles that are necessary to complete the Project (Developer, Designer, Audio, Video, Data Scientist, etc)
  7. Spread the word and try to recruit great people to your Project. A good idea is to create a post in Convoy (our internal forum) and ping people on HipChat (our company-wide chat tool).
  8. People join your Project by going to the Project pitch and clicking ‘Join’.
  9. Once enough people join, hit ‘Start’. If you don’t need anyone else to help, you can just begin, providing you’ve bounced the idea off people who need to know and starting the new Project will not hamper your ability to execute on existing Project commitments.
  10. If you don’t gain enough support for your Project you can click ‘Abandon’.


Once your Project starts …

  1. Conduct an initial kickoff meeting with the new Project team
  2. Once a day, everyone working on the Project needs to post a quick update on where they’re at with the Project and what % complete they are with their tasks. For example, if you’re the Designer, and you feel like you’re 50% done and the Developer feels they’re currently 0% done, assuming it is a two person team the average ‘completeness’ will average out at 25%. The average completeness for each Project will be posted publicly to give the whole company an idea of how complete each Project is.


After your Project completes …

  1. The team measures how successful the Project was and posts a post-mortem thread on the Project in Convoy (our internal forum).
  2. The Project team is responsible for providing ongoing support and maintenance of that Project


Can I leave a Project before it completes?

If you want to move to a new Project, you chat to your current Project Team to let them know you’ll be moving on and then simply sign up for another Project. It’s not cool to leave your team hanging when they need you, and we would expect that poorly timed and communicated moves from teams would be reflected in your peer reviews.

How big can a Project team be?

This is naturally dependent on the nature of the Project. That said, it is in everyone’s best interest to keep the size of Project teams to a minimum. Remember our biggest costs at Treehouse are team salary and the opportunity cost of your time.

How many Projects can I work on at once?

It’s up to you, just don’t disappoint any of the Teams you’ve joined by getting behind schedule and dragging down the team. The importance of focus in creating quality cannot be understated.

Many of the folks at GitHub have blogged about how this is one of their biggest day-to-day challenges: over-committing. Better to over-deliver than under perform.

What happens if a team forms, and produces a Project that they all thought was a good idea. But when it’s complete, it turns out to be of poor quality. Who decides if it goes live or not?

We cannot make a rule for this that will always work. There needs to be a robust QA structure in place but beyond that we’re relying on everyone’s good judgement to decide if something is shippable. Once it ships we need the Project Team to be measuring its success and reporting back on whether it succeeded or failed. 

If I propose a Project, but there’s not enough bandwidth, do I wait on Team Members to finish other Projects or convince others to join mine instead, or do I just have to join another member’s Project in the meantime?

There will be a very small percentage of Project Proposals that actually get started. If yours doesn’t gain traction right away, then just jump into another Project or find something you can do on your own that uses your skills to best serve our Students and advance our Mission.

Where do I post my daily Project updates?

For each Project you’re working on, you need to do a daily update in Flow and include your % completeness.

It is vital that everyone posts daily updates on what they’re working on or this whole idea will fall down.

Will people ‘lead’ Projects?

Each Project Team will have it’s own way of working. Sometimes the best thing to do will be to elect a leader who makes sure everything is driving forward and organized, for example coordinating with teams outside of that particular Project or product. Other times, it may make sense to not have a leader and just divide roles and tasks as needed.

Some people are natural leaders and will automatically influence Projects because of their experience and charisma. However, no one is forced to follow anyone so only people how are actually good at leading will be ‘leaders’. As the saying goes, “If you call a meeting an no one shows up, then you’re not a leader.”

How does everyone know what’s happening on other Projects?

You go to the Project page in Flow and read the status updates. If you need more info you can jump into HipChat (company-wide chat room). We discourage email as it creates information silos.

What tools do Project Teams use? (Trello, Asana, etc)?

After a Project has been started, it’s up to the Project Team to use whatever tool is best suited for their work.

Who prioritizes Projects?

There isn’t any top-down prioritization (unless we are required by law to act on an issue or some “red alert” type work is required, which should be rare). Each person will be prioritizing their todos based on maximizing their ability to advance the company-wide goals and Mission.

How do we spend money and are there budgets?

We want to be clear about something, moving to a flat structure does not mean everyone has carte blanche with Treehouse financial resources. There is one exception:

We are going to start off with no set budgets for Projects at Treehouse. If your team needs to spend less than $500, then you can go ahead and do it on the condition that everyone on the Project Team has unanimously approved it. This will probably mean that whenever you spend money, you have to file a claim through Expensify or you can request a cash allowance from the company. Project teams can spend up to $500 if unanimously agreed amongst the team.

If a Project’s spend increases or is expected to increase above $500 in aggregate, you need the approval of the Co-Founders.

Project spending will be listed publicly so we can all see who’s spending what. Remember, it is absolutely important that we exercise as much thriftiness as possible. When the company has more financials resources (is comfortably generating positive free cash flow) we will probably increase the thresholds for approval above.

Again, for any spending not related to Projects, for example travel, product based spending, non-Project related supplies, etc., you will need to get approval from the CFO.

What’s happening with our current top five priorities?

They have been deprecated. You all will be deciding your day-to-day priorities. The Co-Founders will be communicating their 50,000-foot view of the monthly priorities but they are just guides.

How do we make decisions?

We use our company wide goals, Mission Statement, and impact on free cash flow as a guide for decision making.

Who decides company-wide priorities? Who sets the general direction for the company?

Alan and Ryan (the Co-Founders) are actively steering the ship and setting company-wide goals, our Mission Statement and areas of focus.

What are the Co-Founder’s roles in this new system?

Ryan and Alan are still very much leaders of the company. They will decide on company-wide goals, make sure our Mission remains relevant driving force, and keep our current areas of focus updated.

Next time ..

In my next post I’ll be explaining …

  1. How career progression works
  2. How discipline and compensation works
  3. Pros
  4. Cons

[Props to Nocklebeast for the photo]

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