Jason Fried

March 15, 2023

Just the two of us

There's a lot of talk right now about smaller, slimmer, tighter teams. Economics are forcing companies to cut back, and what they're finding is progress. Trim the overgrown crown, let the sunshine meet the ground, and all sorts of new life blooms on the forest floor.

Even Zuck, master of a megacorp, is noticing it:


"Since we reduced our workforce last year, one surprising result is that many things have gone faster... Indirect costs compound and it’s easy to underestimate them... A leaner org will execute its highest priorities faster"

A number of years ago I wrote a piece lauding the number three. I meant every word. Three person teams are incredibly efficient.

But what's better than three?


Over the past few years, the number of people who work here has continued to grow, but we've downsized our product teams from three to two. At 37signals, both Basecamp and HEY are built by multiple teams of two using our Shape Up process. No feature takes more than 6 weeks to build, and each feature is assigned a maximum of two people: one designer and one programmer. And in more than a few cases, it may just be one person.

How can we build so much software in such a short amount of time with tiny teams of two? That's how.

If it takes more than two people, it can't. We won't let it. We'll clear it up, simplify it down, make more tradeoffs, find more elegance. If it can't fit into two, it's not ready to do.

That's the discipline, and it all has to start there. Two people. This starts at hiring, of course, but it goes back further. It starts with desire: The desire to move real quality very quickly out the door to customers. And not to get caught in the corporate quicksand that swallows so many organizations whole.

Big teams not only slow shit down, they expand the surface area of discontent. Talk to any large team, and you can feel the heat of frustration radiating outward. A similar heat radiates down from management — frustrated by the lack of progress.

Just like work expands to fill the time available, work expands to fill the team available. Small, short projects become bigger, longer projects simply because all those people need something to do.

Small is not less than. It’s greater than. It’s faster than. It’s better than.

We're often changing how we work at 37signals, but I feel like this one's settled on the product side. Two person teams simply can't be beat. Want to do more than two people can do? Add another two person team to to the mix on something else. That's what you do. Don't add them to what you're doing, add them to something you aren't. Four people making progress on two different features at the same time, rather than four people struggling to deliver one thing on time.

I know companies will continue to miss the point here. Yes, they'll get smaller... Maybe go from 12 to 10 on a team. Or even cut a team in half to 6. But it's still way too much.

Jump ahead, break your teams into teams of two. Adopt Shape Up, scope and shape your work accordingly. Work the tradeoffs, get good at spotting the essentials. Get tight. Then you'll see what you can really do.

Get two it.

About Jason Fried

Hey! I'm Jason, the Co-Founder and CEO at 37signals, makers of Basecamp and HEY. Subscribe below to follow my thinking on business, design, product development, and whatever else is on my mind. Thanks for visiting, thanks for reading.