Shapeup for Clients: The Heartbeat

Productivity & Workflow

One of the core tenants of Shape Up is the Heartbeat. The Heartbeat was invented as a way to keep the entire team in the loop of current projects and progress.

Writes Jason Fried:

A Heartbeat summarizes all the work the team did over the last 6-week cycle. It’s a way to celebrate progress, recognize contributions, and detail the sheer quantity of work a team gets done in a relatively short period of time (via standard ~40-hour weeks). It’s a perfect way for everyone to get to know what’s happening across every team in the company — all without having to schedule a thing.

This tactic is part of a response to toxic meeting culture. Instead of keeping a team up to speed via long, unproductive standup meetings, one person can devote time to writing a long form piece detailing the work. Simple, clean, and efficient.

The Problem with Client Work

I’ll spell this out more in a future post talking about “appetites,” but there is one crucial assumption of the Heartbeat that will not apply nicely to most client services businesses: Working in cycles.

At this time, I have not found a clean way of introducing well-defined cycles of work when working on client projects, such that there is a definite beginning and end where periods of focused work is happening.

For us, this work is ongoing all the time, it’s just moving from one client’s project to another.

Units of Time

The unit of time that seems to make the most sense for us right now is a week. Basecamp’s “Lineup” feature zooms into projects at the weekly level, which makes this even cleaner.

So instead of “marking time” every six weeks with the Heartbeat, our team has adapted this to every week. Full disclosure, I am considering moving this timeline to the “monthly” level, as weekly seems too frequent.

Our problem is not the size of the company and / or ignorance of the work that is happening across the company. For us, the Heartbeat is simply our way of keeping the team on the same page. It’s our version of a weekly standup meeting, without the standup or the meeting.

Want to see what one looks like?

Here you go.

Again, as you can see, the purpose for us is to keep a pulse on the work. What I am questioning right now is whether that pulse is really necessary on a weekly basis. I don’t think it is, which is why my next experiment will be to do this monthly.

Is it even necessary at all?

This is a fair question. The reason I implemented it initially is because I was working with an Online Business Manager and was separating myself from the day to day operations of the business a bit. The Heartbeat forced me to stay in the loop.

We recently amicably parted ways, and I have decided I want to remain very involved in the day to day, even if I am not doing most of the fulfillment work. As my involvement increases, there is less of a need for this. And it seems to me it will stay this way until the team goes through another hiring influx.

Tactically speaking, our version of the Heartbeat has four parts:

  1. The intro, welcoming the team and giving a brief summary of work completed in the past week.
  2. The lineup and current projects, discussing all active projects in more detail and moving our progress forward.
  3. Future projects and opportunities, discussing proposals that are out, projects starting soon, etc.
  4. The conclusion, thanking everyone for their hard work and calling them to action if necessary.

In short, the Heartbeat has definitely been a helpful and welcome addition to our workflow. I generally write it on Sunday nights during my planning time for the week ahead.

Have any thoughts or questions? Leave a comment below! I’d love to talk with you more about it.

Jun 18, 2022

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