Have you ever had a job you did not like?

This book–described as a page turner by one reviewer–is a fable illustrating what separates good jobs from bad ones. I think it also speaks clearly to the keys for success in any situation where a group of people is trying to accomplish a common goal. The story moves quickly, and while contrived at times, makes Patrick Lencioni’s three main points clear.

Lencioni contends that there are three primary contributors to a miserable job which he describes in the following way:


People cannot be fulfilled in their work if they are not known. All human beings need to be understood in a position of authority…. People who see themselves as invisible, generic, or anonymous cannot love their jobs, no matter what they are doing.


Everyone needs to know that their job matters, to someone. Anyone. Without seeing a connection between the work and the satisfaction of another person or group of people, an employee simply will not find lasting fulfillment.


Employees need to be able to gauge their progress and level of contribution for themselves. They cannot be fulfilled in their work if their success depends on the opinions or whims of another person, no matter how benevolent that person may be. Without tangible means of assessing success or failure, motivation eventually deteriorates as people see themselves as unable to control their fate.

Lencioni concedes that immeasurement is not a word in the dictionary sense, yet contends that creating this word is the best way to makes his point.

Thinking back to different jobs I’ve had, it is fairly easy to sort out the winners and losers based on this criteria. In some cases it is clearer now why I was dissatisfied and moved on.

While Lencioni’s target audience is the traditional employeee employer relationship, these same attributes carry over into most forms of satisfying work–including open source projects. Naturally in most cases community members are not paid or employees in the traditional sense.  And if a project is failing in all three areas, most people won’t stick around. The whole notion that open source projects thrive and succeed simply because a bunch of people “got together to scratch a common itch” is too simplistic and not sustainable long term.

Unintentionally, I’ve been thinking a lot about irrelevance and immeausurement as I’ve worked with Jon Stanley to help relaunch the bug triage effort. Who wants to invest time trying to make a dent in 13,000 open bugs if it does not appear that their efforts are relevant? Who wants to triage bugs day after day if there is no way to measure their progress? Who wants to incur the occasional wrath of frustrated bug reporters and package maintainers if no one recognizes their efforts? Long term, even if people feel that their efforts are relevant and showing measurable progress, they will eventually get discouraged if they do not feel their individual efforts are recognized–anonymity.

The punch line here for anyone interested in helping with Fedora bug triage is that we are doing our best to make sure it is is not a miserable job 🙂

The concept of immeasurement puts a positive spin on metrics–often the bane of many individual contributor’s existence. Lencioni suggests how miserable basketball players would be if no score was kept and the winning team was selected by a group of subjective judges. Or how miserable a baseball pitcher would be if his performance was judged by the gut level of his coach instead of the statistical results of his performance. As a counter point, Lencioni also suggests that if the people being measured consider the metrics onerous, the wrong things are probably being measured and are not helpful. Naturally, the best measurable items are usually ones that the measuree agrees are relevant and important, and thus buys into.

This is a great book for anyone that does work of any kind. Its target audience is encouraging managers and CEOs to treat their people well and the compounding benefits that can result. Employees can take just as much away. It is also a great read for anyone unhappy in their present job.

Lencioni suggests asking potential new employers how they treat their employees in terms of anonymity, relevance, and measurement during the interview process. If you don’t get a good sense about these three areas the chances of finding a new satisfying job are probably low. This book also helps explain why a job that appears very mundane to you could be very satisfying to someone else.

Another highly recommended by book by Patrick Lencioni is The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. It includes a number of great insights into well functioning teams and how to lead them. It is a short quick read, told in the same fable style as Three Signs of a Miserable Job.