How We Made Joy Our Competitive Advantage

3-happy-workers“When you walk into the lobby of Menlo Innovations, you find yourself standing in the heart of what makes this company one of the most innovative and productive software development firms in the world.”

Wrote John Baldoni, a Forbes magazine contributor, in an article about Menlo last January. Since he wrote that article, Menlo has had over 3,000 visitors to our software factory in Ann Arbor. People want to know what makes Menlo special and are exceedingly interested in how we run our business. You might be excited (or maybe disappointed) to learn that there is no rocket science involved; the secret to Menlo’s success is our culture. If you ask our Founder, CEO Richard Sheridan what is the secret to our success he would tell you that “joy” is what makes us special and where we derive our value.

Joy is not some shameless mantra or even a marketing technique; it is what has propelled our business from starting in a basement in 2001 to having a team of over 50 people. We’ve highlighted three ways that we’ve brought joy to the workplace:

Culture – Babies, dogs, and pizza OH MY!

We want people to be happy and feel comfortable when they come to work, which is why it’s not unusual to have someone bring their dog to the office or maybe even their baby. Throughout our history, we’ve had eight Menlo babies in the office and we love them! It’s also common for the team to have “lunch and learns,” where the entire team eats lunch together while we learn about a topic that the team finds valuable. If you suspect that these might just be an excuse to eat pizza together, you might be right!

Founded in 2001, Menlo Innovations was inspired by the creative and productive work environment demonstrated at Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park, New Jersey “Invention Factory.” Menlo has replicated Edison’s concept of a truly open and collaborative environment – all team members work side by side in a large, open, brick-walled workspace. No barriers (cubes, offices, or otherwise) limit communication within or between project teams. In this noisy, fun atmosphere Menlo has produced software for all walks of industry from health care, to scientific equipment, to high-fashion ecommerce, to diesel motor vehicle diagnostics, and many more.

Creativity – Call it agile, pair partners, or whatever you like

“Cubicles kill,” our CEO and chief storyteller Rich Sheridan, wrote in a blog article. “They kill morale, communication, productivity, creativity, teamwork, camaraderie, energy, spirit and results. They suck the joy out of work.”

At Menlo, our office is completely open so everyone knows what everyone else is doing. Even the conference rooms have glass doors and walls, so there’s no such thing as a secret meeting. Additionally, everyone works in pairs – yes even the developers – sharing the same computer, keyboard and mouse. We’ve found that this promotes collaboration on ideas, peer accountability, and cross-pollination of project knowledge. This prevents anyone from becoming a tower of knowledge and instead creates a team that is adaptable and capable of solving any problem.

Getting things done – a software company that uses paper and note cards for project management?

If you are familiar with Menlo, you might have heard of terms like estimation, planning game, and work authorization: all fundamental aspects of how we do business. What surprises our visitors most is that we use note cards and paper to manage our projects.

But aren’t you a software company? People inevitably ask, but one of our principles is to do the simplest thing that could possibly work and often using a virtual task management system isn’t the best method (we’ve tried!). We’ve found that writing things down on paper causes the team to be more engaged and with our work authorization board, the entire team can see what everyone else is working on, which does wonders for productivity.


Our mission as an organization is to end human suffering in the world as it relates to technology™. To further our mission, we are also passionate about sharing our culture and processes with the world. We offer workshops, books and tours to help others understand our methods, how they can be applied in other industries, and why they are so important to achieving successful outcomes within a team.

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Richard Sheridan

Richard Sheridan

Richard Sheridan is the author of Joy, Inc. and the CEO, Chief Storyteller and co-founder of Menlo Innovations.

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