LearnAn easy tip for managing your team

Ryan
writes on May 19, 2007

When Ryan Singer did a workshop for us at FOWD, he and I got chatting about how they run things at 37signals. He gave me an amazing idea that we now use at CS, and I’d like to share it with you all.

Any of you who are managers will know that you need to keep up on how your team is doing and what they’re doing. At the same time, it’s never helpful to micro-manage and constantly bug your team.

Answer: A company chat room!

We use Campfire for this, and it’s perfect as it’s cheap and simple. We have a room called ‘The Howdy Room!’ (for no other reason than I think the word ‘Howdy’ is rad).

Daily check-in

Here’s how it works: When you get in the office, you log into the room (I have it set as my home page) and I post a message starting with ‘[IN]’ and I then list what I’m up to that day. Here’s an example:

Then right before we go home for the day, everyone enters a check-out message, starting with ‘[OUT]’, like this:

Weekly check-in

In addition to daily check-ins everyone does a weekly check-in. It starts with ‘[THIS WEEK]’ on a Monday morning, and ends with a ‘[DID THIS WEEK]’ at the end of the week.

We have weekly Tuesday meetings (for the Bath office) at a coffee shop and by doing this weekly check-in on Mondays, we already have a good idea of what everyone’s up to for the week, when we start that meeting.

Extra benefits

In addition to helping Gill and I know what everyone is up to, doing a daily and weekly check-in also helps everyone else know what they’re up to. It keeps everyone informed without having long meetings and lengthy unnecessary conversations.

We also use this room as a place to chat about interesting things. As you all know, when someone starts talking about something so everyone in the office can hear, it can be quite a distraction. You have to ‘come out’ of whatever you’re doing, listen, and then respond. After that, it takes a good 3-5 minutes to get back into what you were previously doing.

By saying things like ‘Hey, has anyone seen the site www.xyz.com?’ in the chat room, only the people who have time to answer will choose to jump into the conversation. If someone is super busy, they’ll just ignore the ‘Beep’ from the chat room. It’s great!

If you have any tips for keeping your team running smoothly, please share!

32 Responses to “An easy tip for managing your team”

  1. As far as daily communication between our young team goes … nothing has beaten Ventrilo thus far.

    We use e-mail and IMs where need be but Ventrilo (although not a very elegant application) has facilitated a quick, “push-to-talk” voice communication that has redefined the way we operate.

    Comes in both Mac and PC flavors for the free client and is very inexpensive to host.

    That’s me.

  2. At pixeco we’ve been using http://www.protopage.com. I set up a main account and then a series of their notepads, one each in fact. We can then each update what we need to do and have done. Sort of like a global view of everyones to-do list. Been using it for about a year now and it works brilliantly.

  3. I like your suggestion as a log to know what everybody in the team is doing, but frankly I see it exagerated to use it in a small business for chatting. For this, here in Italy, we’re used to have human touch: we meet normaly in front of the coffee machine or in the sun right outside the door if someone wants to smoke. This solutions have also the advantage that you make some steps and relaxe your eyes.

    ciao
    alexander
    Ottantaventi blog

  4. We’re trying this out starting from today, really top tip, thanks for the post. Will let you know how we get on!

  5. Our campfire room died after about 3 months. Even with cool apps like Pyro that integrate it tighter in OS X, it still seems like more trouble than iChat or Twitter.
    One thing I like about chatting in general is scheduling mini meetings. Checking in with people to see if they are available for a short conversation. This eliminated a lot of Voicemail tag.

  6. wow.. a lot of negativity!

  7. How about something new, Ryan?

    Bryan, you’re assuming everyone is reading Signal Vs Noise everyday.

  8. 37signals already shared this months ago. How about something new, Ryan?

  9. This entry reminds me of a post I just read earlier about using Twitter to manage an IT Support organization.

    See http://dwarfurl.com/667dc

    The idea is similar — use technology to facilitate coordination. One advantage with Twitter — you don’t need to be at a PC with a ‘net connection to update your status.

  10. The “‘come out’ of whatever you’re doing…it takes a good 3-5 minutes to get back into what you were previously doing” issue is quite nicely fixed by pair programming: whoever in the pair can best deal with the issue deals with it, while the other guy stays “in the groove,” and then the person who dealt with the issue can get straight back in.

    Personally, I find chat rooms far slower for communication; something I can deal with in a couple of minutes face to face can take five or ten minutes in a text chat, and in the meantime my productivity is lowered because I have to switch back and forth between whatever I’m doing and chat for a much longer period of time (or just abandon for a longer period of time whatever I was doing, and instead wait around for someone to type something).

  11. Be careful though, I used to work at a company that used something similar to this but they also mixed in an awful lot of micromanagement.

  12. We do a similar thing with our internal forums. Everyone posts an SOD (start of day) and an EOD (end of day) usually with one thread per team. We’re a fairly big company mostly in the same building and it seems to work well.

  13. perhaps this works because you are distributed around the world? i like the idea, especially as it will stop me micro-managing my staff! but i’m wondering how it would work when we all sit in a room together — it removes the art of conversation!

  14. Bogdan on May 20, 2007 at 8:59 am said:

    SCRUM over the internet. What a great idea.

  15. Well, if it’s for a small team, sounds more like an extra ‘fun’ feature to me. Can’t imagine this working for a big team.

    Take some screenshots of some funny stuff happening in your chatbox Ryan :).

  16. Sounds very simple but like it would actually work… I will propose this to the ones I work with.. thanks..

  17. @Stefson – We’re up to nine people now, spread between Bath, San Francisco and Russia

  18. Even with them being in Utah and me in Alabama, I didn’t speak on the phone with the dev team a single time when building a recent project. Chat is so much faster (no lame “how was your weekend” conversations needed), more useful (send attachments and links), and more productive (ask a quick question and keep working while you wait for a reply). And it gives you time to think about your answer before answering.

    If, however, we were in the same office, I’m sure it would have helped to have a few face to face conversations. And, although awesome, there is a draw back to chat or email. Sarcasm doesn’t come through very well. It’s always lame to end a joke with a forced, “haha” as a clue that you were kidding.

  19. –Any of you who are managers will know that you need to keep up on how your team is doing and what theyâ€re doing. At the same time, itâ€s never helpful to micro-manage and constantly bug your team.–

    I thought there was only like 5 people in carson systems? Then why in earth would you need a chat box to stay on top of things. To constantly see what your employees are doing and working on? Personally, I would find that annoying, but I guess that’s just me.

  20. What a great idea…will have to start implementing it next week. Will be interesting to look back over the past few months and be able to see exactly what was done each day/week.

  21. iChat (Text+Video) is the main source of communication for my team.

  22. The guys from Last.fm mentioned a similar system they use at the last FOWA, based around IRC. What was really cool about theirs is that things like subversion updates are entered into the chat.

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