Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp, shares his unique approach to creating a productive work environment, including how he eliminates meetings and creates autonomous teams.
Product managers are busy. You wear many hats and have to execute a range of aspects of building and launching products. This includes meeting with key stakeholders, answering questions about feature requirements and delivery timelines, and creating reports. With all these requests on your time, it’s easy run out of time to do “actual” product management work.
As Jason discusses in this episode, when you don’t have time to work, you end up working more hours. At some companies, 50, 60, or even 70-hour work-weeks are the norm. Work then begins to cut into your personal life, which can be harmful to your health, happiness and productivity.
As the CEO of Basecamp, Jason works to create a productive — and sane! — work environment, and after 18 years in business, he’s learned what works.
Meetings are one of the most common time-consumers and productivity killers for product managers. If you have five people in a one-hour meeting, you’ve just used five hours of collective work time, Jason says. In addition, you need to synchronize the meeting with everyone’s schedule, and there’s often dead time before and after the meeting.
Jason has found that discussions rarely need to be done with everyone in the same location at the same time because “most things, especially in meetings, do not need to happen in real time.” Answers to questions can be done in writing when people have the time and attention for it. Asynchronous written communication saves his team time and reduces interruption.
In order for teams to be able to work on asynchronous schedules, Jason emphasizes the importance of strong communication skills.
When you assign to do’s, you should also leave some notes about what you intend someone to do, not just assign them something, but explain what it is a little bit more. So people are clear about that, they don’t have ask. Big thing is just trying to be proactive. Thinking about when you’re communicating with somebody, what kind of questions might they have and can you answer those ahead of time. So they don’t have to take another day to get back to you and then you take another day to get back to them sort of thing. So just thinking ahead about communication is really, probably the most important thing I can suggest.
Eliminating meetings isn’t the only strategy Jason has deployed to run what he describes as a “simpler and free-er” business. For example, Jason creates small teams and trusts them to make decisions and work autonomously. After reading Ricardo Semler’s book Maverick, Jason learned how to think outside of the box.
“We can run a simpler business, a freer business. We can trust people to do great work. We don’t have to be on top of everyone. You don’t have to create a lot of policies and rules, whatnot.” There are rules and principles, ideals that we strive for, but those things are all about getting people adequate time and freedom to do their work.
It’s all part of having more respect for other people’s time and attention. Ultimately, Jason’s goal is for people at Basecamp to think holistically and understand the impact of each individual ask.
You’ll learn a lot from this episode about practices that help the team at Basecamp stay productive without working more than 40 hours per week.
Here are the highlights:
- Jason describes what most commonly prevents teams from getting things done (4:30)
- How Basecamp became more productive after eliminating meetings (6:25)
- Basecamp’s strategy for managing work schedules and communication with remote employees (9:50)
- How Basecamp reduces interdependencies between teams (13:20)
- The skillsets and personality required to be successful in this work environment (16:15)
- How individuals can be more productive in their company’s work environment (18:30)