How we structure our work and teams at Basecamp

Six weeks • One cycle

An inside look at the specifics of how we decide what to do and then decide how to do it.

“How do you guys actually work? How do you choose what to do? How big are your teams? How do you structure the work itself” are questions I get all the time. I’ve been sharing the details in small group workshops and 1 on 1, but figured it was time to write something up so we can share it at large.

We landed on this process after a decade of refinement. Just like we’re always iterating on our product work, we’re also always iterating on how our company works. We consider our company a product too. When you begin to think of your company like a product, you can begin to improve it in entirely new ways. I feel like we’re on version 5.2 of “how we work”.

Let’s get into it:

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Status meetings are the scourge

Status meetings are the worst kinds of meetings. Eliminate them and you’ll actually know more, save a pile of money, and regain dozens of hours a month.

A status meeting — sometimes called a stand-up — is a meeting where a bunch of people get together in a room (or virtually via video chat) and speak one at a time. Someone gets the floor, they fill the group in on something that’s going on, then they cede the floor to someone else who does the same thing. One after another, around they go.

It’s hard to come up with a bigger waste of money, time, or attention than status meetings.

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Silicon Valley arrogance: “I can tell you which startups will succeed, without even knowing what…

According to Marissa Mayer, long hours and weekend work (in person) will lead to success


Yesterday I read this article about Marissa Mayer. This quote infuriated me (emphasis mine):

My husband [the venture capital investor Zachary Bogue] runs a co-working office in San Francisco…And if you go in on a Saturday afternoon, I can tell you which startups will succeed, without even knowing what they do. Being there on the weekend is a huge indicator of success, mostly because these companies just don’t happen. They happen because of really hard work.

I read my fair share about the tech world. I haven’t encountered statements this utterly arrogant and silly in a while.

Let’s break down that quote. She’s saying…

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I’ve never had a goal

I can’t remember having a goal. An actual goal.

There are things I’ve wanted to do, but if I didn’t do them I’d be fine with that too. There are targets that would have been nice to hit, but if I didn’t hit them I wouldn’t look back and say I missed them.

I don’t aim for things that way.

I do things, I try things, I build things, I want to make progress, I want to make things better for me, my company, my family, my neighborhood, etc. But I’ve never set a goal. It’s just not how I approach things.

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Don’t let anyone overpay you

The right size net

The moment one customer pays you a lot more than any other customer, you’re no longer a product company, you’re a services/consulting company again.

When we launched the first version of Basecamp in 2004, we decided to build software for small companies just like us. We know how growing from four to six or eight employees is a huge move. We know that it’s during those growth moments you need a system to help you keep everyone on the same page, and help your expanding teams be more self-sufficient. Being roughly the same size as our customers was a product-focused, mission-oriented decision we made then and have stuck to ever since.

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I fucking ❤ Mondays!

It’s actually more Fridays I have a problem with. Fridays are often the anticlimax of the week. Sometimes you didn’t get as much done as you hoped, your energy is spent, and frankly, you just want to put a lid on it.

Mondays, on the other hand, are always full of promise and freshness. Imagine all the great things this week might have to offer! Imagine finally cracking the hard problem that cooked your noodle last week. Monday is the day of optimism, before reality pummels the week and your spirit into submission.

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Being tired isn’t a badge of honor

Whenever I speak at a conference, I try to catch a few of the other presentations. I tend to stand in the back and listen, observe, and get a general sense of the room.

Lately, I’ve been hearing something that disturbs me. A lot of entrepreneurs onstage have been bragging about not sleeping, telling their audiences about their 16-hour days, and making it sound like hustle-at-all-costs is the way ahead. Rest be damned, they say — there’s an endless amount of work to do.

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I’m a boring programmer (and proud of it)

Archetypes for programmers (if you believe all those silly job postings). Illustration by Nate Otto.

I have a confession to make — I’m not a rock star programmer. Nor am I a hacker. I don’t know ninjutsu. Nobody has ever called me a wizard.

Still, I take pride in the fact that I’m a good, solid programmer. One who works hard at his craft and really enjoys it, even without the fancy labels.

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Is group chat making you sweat?

Is this you? Are you making other feel like this?

Group chat is like being in an all-day meeting with random participants and no agenda.

In 2006 we launched Campfire, the first modern SAAS group chat and messaging tool for business.

Since then, quite a few business chat and messaging tools like Hipchat, Flowdock, Slack and others have sprung up. And we’ve since rolled group chat and instant messaging (we call them “pings”) into the all new Basecamp 3.

As a company, we’ve been around group/business chat longer than just about any other company in business today. In addition to hearing from our customers for years, our own daily experiences over ten years of extensive group chatting have taught us a lot about what works and what doesn’t. All together, we’ve messaged nearly 10,000,000 lines to one another at 37signals/Basecamp since 2006.

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Why I work remotely (hint: it has nothing to do with productivity).

Illustration by Nate Otto

These are some of the things I can do because I’m fortunate to work for a company that lets me work from anywhere:

  • Hug my kids and feed them breakfast before they leave for school in the morning.
  • Greet and make a snack for them when they get home; hear all about their day.
  • Work from my favorite coffee shop.
  • Spend a week with the whole Basecamp team in our Chicago office.
  • Spend a week with my team in sunny Austin, TX (while it’s -2ºF in Chicago).
  • Run an errand for a friend.
  • Walk my dogs.
  • Work with a friend.
  • Care for a sick child without taking a sick day myself.

After you’ve read all the books and articles about keeping on-task when working from home, setting up the perfect home office, avoiding loneliness, staying connected, sidestepping distractions, and avoiding interruptions I’d suggest one thing: embrace interruptions.

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