Stay in the Loop with Heartbeats
As companies grow, keeping everyone up-to-date on everything that’s going on gets harder and harder. It's not statistics, spreadsheets, slide decks, reports, or abstract representations of what’s going on, but the simple way people describe what they’re working on to their friends.
In some cases companies begin to under-communicate internally (people are left wondering what’s going on). To compensate, others begin to over-communicate internally (sharing the wrong level of detail too often, and sharing it in ways that make it difficult to follow or find).
The hard part is striking the right balance. The just-right spot where everyone knows enough, no one feels like they know too little, and no one feels like they’re being over-informed to the point of it being annoying or distracting. And doing it all at a variety of resolutions — big picture, medium-picture, and small picture — without overdoing it.
We’ve been thinking a lot about how to do this right. At any one time, we have dozens of projects in motion, so there’s a lot going on. We’ve experimented with a variety of methods over the years. We think we’ve finally landed on the perfect fit, the perfect way to do it.
For us the goal was simple: On a regular, ongoing basis, help everyone at the company learn things they didn’t know, discover stuff they might not have known was going on, and develop a better appreciation for their fellow co-workers and the work everyone does every day.
And, tangentially, as a positive side-effect, automatically create a library of progress — a collection of institutional knowledge, with day-by-day documentation by dozens of individual authors in their own words.
When we have an update for the rest of the company, we post it as a heartbeat message at the end of a cycle. There's no specific guideline about how to write a heartbeat. People write in their own style, some follow other people’s leads. It’s just natural.
Here’s what that looks like:
And here's what an individual heartbeat looks like, along with comments from others.
Messages are automatically sent out to everyone in the company. People can then comment, ask detailed follow-up questions, and the discussions are kept nice and neat as separate threads so they’re easy to read now and easy to refer back to later. They are especially useful for bringing employees up to speed on how we work and how we share our work.
With each heartbeat as it's own unique self-contained message thread, people can post follow-ups questions, request more detail, and discuss things in context without the conversation spilling over into other conversations. Paired with automatic check-ins, it's a powerful way to keep everyone at your company in the loop.
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