⭑⭑⭑⭑ (4/5 see book reviews)

It took me two years as a manager to reach the “leadership is lonely” phase.

– Will Larson, An Elegant Puzzle

An Elegant Puzzle by Will Larson

I read this book because I read Will Larson’s blog and newsletter and they’re frequent sources of management insight.

This book reads like a collection of blog posts with smooth transitions.

On blogging

Since I so enjoy Larson’s blogs, I was heartened to hear about Larson’s blogging journey:

It took 200 more posts and another decade to cobble together a written voice and to make enough mistakes that my experience might become worth reading.

– Will Larson, An Elegant Puzzle

This is a good reminder that most overnight success is a decade in the making.

Limit WIP

I think the most applicable advice in the book was this:

When the team is treading water, the system fix is to consolidate the team’s efforts to finish more things, and to reduce concurrent work until they’re able to begin repaying debt (e.g., limit work in progress).

– Will Larson, An Elegant Puzzle

I’ve struggled to limit work in process (WIP) both personally and professionally over the past year.

This advice rang true.

Organizational efficiency is evil

Organizational slack has been missing from every organization I’ve been a part of. The result is predictable: if everyone is working on their own priorities, and there are dependencies between teams, no one will ever complete anything.

Larson reinforces this idea:

The expected time to complete a new task approaches infinity as a team’s utilization approaches 100 percent, and most teams have many dependencies on other teams.

– Will Larson, An Elegant Puzzle

Other valuable ideas

Good process is as lightweight as possible, while being rigorous enough to consistently work.

– Will Larson, An Elegant Puzzle

Having humans who perform gatekeeping activities creates very odd social dynamics, and is rarely a great use of a human’s time.

– Will Larson, An Elegant Puzzle

With that setup in place, create a rotation for people who are available to answer questions, and train your team not to answer other forms of interruptions. This is remarkably uncomfortable because we want to be helpful humans, but it becomes necessary as the number of interruptions climbs higher. One specific tool that I’ve found extremely helpful here is an ownership registry, which allows you to look up who owns what, eliminating the frequent “Who owns X?”

– Will Larson, An Elegant Puzzle

There’s also an amazing list of computer science papers that Larson recommends: Papers recommended by “An Elegant Puzzle”.


  • Title: An Elegant Puzzle
  • Author: Will Larson
  • Pages: 288
  • Format: EBook
  • Publisher: Stripe Press
  • ISBN: 1732265186
  • Genre: Management