2 min read

Status Boards and Company Culture

One the most fun and useful things I’ve ever built is the Fog Creek Big Board. Will Thompson, one of Fog Creek’s talented summer interns, cleaned up my hideous code and open sourced one of the board’s neatest components: the Solari board.

Solari Board

Status boards are pretty common fixtures at software companies these days, but, let’s face it, many of them are nothing more than eye candy.  Of course you want your status board to look pretty, but building one that’s indispensable is the real challenge.

Man, the Big Board was soooo useful.

The Big Board quickly became the centerpiece of our customer support workflow. In a way, it was a graphical representation of the Fog Creek customer service philosophy. I can’t take credit for the board’s success, though. I did much of the design, but the Big Board was the brain child of Rich Armstrong, who is not only a master of process improvement, but has a keen ability (super power, even?) to cut straight to the core of the thorniest technical–and sociological–problems.

I remember the discussion between Rich and I about what we should put on the board. I thought, “What would look cool?” Then Rich said, “So, what behaviors do we want to reinforce?” Ah, yes, of course. We wanted to:

  1. Respond to customer phone calls according to schedule
  2. Respond to support cases within 1 business day
  3. Reduce our Fix It Twice backlog And so we added our call schedule to the Solari board, front and center.

As soon as a support call was scheduled and assigned, the train board clattered subtly and everyone on the team knew about it.   Calls wouldn’t be missed. In the upper right-hand corner of the Solari board there was a small digital clock displaying the time our next support case was due for a response, in accordance with our 1 business day SLA. The color of the clock was highly relevant, too:

  • If there were cases in the queue that were overdue, the clock turned red.
  • If cases were due within our business day window, the clock turned yellow.
  • If we managed to close all the near-term cases, the clock turned green.

We called this “greening the board.” Around 4pm every day, we’d jokingly rib the person that was preventing the board from turning green. Then we’d all pitch in to help, like we were on a World of Warcraft raid, until our mission was accomplished and we could reward ourselves with a beer and random discussion about web frameworks or classic movie references I didn’t understand. Some days we’d green the board super early, which meant we could take the rest of the day to work heads down on our side projects, only stopping with the clattering of the Solari board.

Lastly, we displayed a raw count of Fix It Twice cases in the backlog. If this number exceeded a threshold we set, it signified that, once our calls and near-term cases were in order, we should trim the backlog before digging into project work. Incentives: aligned.

These 3 simple indicators, all provided by the Solari board, kept our processes running smoothly and made our customers, and our team, happy. Ask yourself: What metrics underly my team’s culture?  And how can I make them public, actionable, and fun to affect?

Other posts on the Big Board: