The time that we spend on thoughtbot.com is fluid; we have designers and developers rotating in and out quickly. Because of the quick rotations, we kept running into issues with people starting work and not being able to finish it. New designers and developers jumping on the project lacked a lot of the context that the core team had. The core team would need to spend a lot of time informing their decisions or giving feedback on decisions that we’re made without the full context of the opportunity or change.
Because of the flexible nature of our designer and developer time on the project and the amount of time that the core team can dedicate to thoughtbot.com, we decided that we needed a more rigorous project management process. The process should empower people to deliver value in a week or less.
While we were trying to figure out the best way to establish work for Designers and Developers rotating on the project, Basecamp released Shape Up. After reading through it, we gravitated to the language and the process introduced in the book. The core team latched on to the concepts outlined in Shape Up and adopted some of the language to inform our own process better.
The thoughtbot.com leadership team, consisting of our CMO, Digital Marketing Director, NYC Design Director and myself, work on opportunities they see as most impactful. They’ll actively shape those opportunities then break it up into smaller tasks that have enough information for people to take over and deliver. When the team is shaping these solutions, we’re writing out Jobs stories and metrics for success in a content audit and then setting a direction for the design to head in.
What the process looks like:
- Inbox: New ideas or problems to be solved get added as cards to the Inbox. This column allows for all thoughtbotters to contribute ideas and request changes to thoughtbot.com. The team working on thoughtbot.com will discuss it during our planning meeting and take the appropriate action.
- Needs Shaping: Opportunities in this stage have been identified as potentially valuable, but need to be shaped into meaningful projects by the thoughtbot.com core team. This amounts to one of the biggest differences between how we work and the process in Shape Up. While they explicitly don’t keep a backlog of ideas, we do.
- Shaping: While thinking through and planning the work that needs to be done, we keep cards in the Shaping Column. Here we figure out the risks involved with each opportunity and judge our appetite for solving for it. For opportunities that we believe are worth betting on, we add fidelity to cards so that we reduce unknowns, risk and make cards highly actionable for folks to work on once it’s moved to the thoughtbot.com board.
- Review: These are opportunities that are being shaped by the thoughtbot.com team, but are seeking review before being considered Shaped. The thoughtbot.com core team will review the work that has been shaped using collaborative tools to asynchronously communicate. Tools like Google Docs and Figma have proven vital for team communication. Though we don’t explicitly call this process our pitch-table, it serves a similar purpose.
- Shaped: Cards in this column are ready to be expanded out to smaller deliverable tasks. Since we don’t always have a consistent team working on thoughtbot.com each week, cards/projects are held in this column and only moved to the thoughtbot.com board’s Next Up column when we know a project can be worked on by real, scheduled people.
Once an opportunity is shaped, the core team outlines the tasks they believe are needed to accomplish the project. Each one of the tasks should be small enough to be delivered in a small amount of time. This is another big difference between our process and what is documented in Shape Up. The team that makes up thoughtbot.com is rotated in and out weekly and isn’t able to dedicate the six-week timeline that Basecamp is able to while working on their product.
We’ve found this process and language of Shape Up has helped our team communicate, evaluate, and inform the work that we are doing. It has made transitioning teammates on and off more seamless, while still empowering them to deliver value to the website. Our team, situation, and objectives are different than the team at Basecamp, so we’ve adapted parts of their process to work within our constraints.