Creating Common Ground with the Atomic Reading List


Atomic Object has employees from many different backgrounds. Though this diversity is something we celebrate in our culture, it could potentially lead to a team using several conflicting approaches on the same project. To help mitigate this risk, Atomic’s new employee orientation aims to create common ground with required reading.

The Atomic Curriculum

New Atoms are required to read Atomic Spin and Great Not Big post about things like Atomic’s values, our dedication to transparency, our project budgeting model, and how we like employees to engage in teams.

And all makers must read three books during their first six weeks at the company:

What I love about having a required reading list is that it gives everyone in the company a philosophical common ground to build on. If the problem is technical in nature, we can easily refer to Extreme Programming Explained or The Pragmatic Programmer. If it’s an interpersonal issue, we turn to Crucial Conversations.

What does this reading list give Atomic Object? A large group of exceptionally tech-savvy makers who all work in a very similar manner with few major conflicts.

For Example

If we took those books away from Atomic, each Atom would turn to other sources for their “go-to behavior,” leading to conversations like this:

“I’ve decided I really like the Poppendieck books, so I’m going to focus on Lean Software Development.”

“That’s great! I personally really like XP, so I’m going to use  Extreme Programming Explained as my point-of-truth for development.”

On the surface, that seems fine. But what about when there’s a disagreement about the overall strategy for tackling a problem? Although Agile and Lean work nicely together, there’s still going to be some differences between their fundamental approaches.

At Atomic, two developers are likely to approach problem-solving from the same philosophical foundation, since we’ve all had read Extreme Programming Explained. If someone has done some reading on Lean Software Development, then what was learned is incorporated into what we already know, rather than conflicting with it. There’s no starting over.

Sure, there’s disagreement sometimes. But that’s what Crucial Conversations is for.

My Reading List

As good as this reading list is, it’s still simply a starting point. When I look at my bookshelf at home, I see that Implementing Lean Software Development and Working Effectively with Legacy Code have both survived my many book purges.

More recently, I’ve become a big fan of The Lean Startup, and it will undoubtedly find a permanent home on my bookshelf. Of course, there are the books that have no overt connection to my professional life, most notably Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, The Art of War, and a myriad of science fiction and fantasy novels.

So what’s on your bookshelf?

  • Meghan says:

    Have you ever tried setting up some sort of communal virtual library at AO? A hub where you can share what you’re reading at home, comment on/rate books or articles, request to borrow from other Atoms, etc. I see tools like this periodically and wonder if they might be a good fit for you. Though you’d probably just write your own.

    • Karlin Fox says:

      Good suggestion!

      We actually tried Delicious Monster once a few years back. Despite the nifty barcode scanning features, it didn’t hold up to the size (hundreds of books) and diversity (magazines, conference proceedings, academic papers printed from the web, preprint beta books, etc.) of our collection.

      What has worked well since then is augmenting our physical book collection with a library of electronic books in an accessible repository, as well as using Yammer internally to share and communicate about reading our books (or anything else) with fellow Atoms.

  • AO definitely has a number of books – both physical and virtual – around the office. Instead of using software to rate our reads, we rely solely on word of mouth. We certainly could build something ourselves or use an existing service, but I don’t believe that would improve our experience.

    BTW, delicious-monster looks like a lot of fun. I’ll have to explore that a bit. Thanks for the tip!

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