Jason Fried

December 20, 2021

What's in a Heartbeat?

We're famous for having very few meetings at Basecamp. We generally think meetings are toxic.

Yet, meetings do convey information, and we need to convey information, so what's our replacement?

Writing. Long-form, complete-thought, considered writing. We write a lot at Basecamp.

Since long-form writing is an asynchronous form of communication, people can publish thoughts when they're ready, and others can read them, consider them, and respond to them when they have time. No synchronization of schedules required, no pulling people off their work to sit around a table (or show their face in a box on the screen), and none of the FOMO or stress that's tied to real-time communication like group chat.

Long-form writing takes many forms at Basecamp, but "Heartbeats" are a prime example.

Heartbeats — written by team leads roughly every 6 weeks — are published to a message board in a Basecamp project called "What Works". Everyone in the company can see this project, and can read every Heartbeat.

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.

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Let's take a look at an example of an actual Heartbeat. We've opened it up via a public Basecamp link so everyone can see it. This one was written by Jeff, who leads up the Product Programming team here at Basecamp. This Heartbeat is about 95% the same as the one we published internally — a few things have been struck, changed, or modified since they weren't originally written for public consumption. Jeff has granted me permission to share this publicly. Note the links in the Heartbeat won't work b/c they are links to our internal Basecamp account.

Now multiply that Heartbeat by many teams — programmers, designers, security, customer service, operations, admin, etc — and you can see how these Heartbeats become a wonderful record of everything that's happening across the whole company on a regular basis. A library of accomplishments (and, sometimes, setbacks) for everyone's benefit — including future employees who don't work here yet. Reading back through Heartbeats are a great way to get a sense of the things we do around here, how we work, who's doing what, and how we recognize each other's efforts.

Make sense?

Heartbearts are just one example of the kind of long-form writing we do here. In a future post, I'll talk about Kickoffs — predictions for what we want to get done in the next 6 weeks. Both Heartbeats and Kickoffs are fundamental parts of our Shape Up process.

Hope this was helpful. If you have any questions, lemme know.

-Jason