How our fully remote team makes big decisions

We work remotely and communicate asynchronously.

So if we’re not in the same room how do we make important product decisions?

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We make a pitch.

The pitch is an idea we borrowed from Basecamp that’s explained in Shape Up - their book on product strategy.


A pitch consists of five clear steps:

1) The Problem

2) Appetite

3) The Solution

4) Rabbit Holes

5) No-go's

For a comprehensive dive into the product creation process, opt for Basecamp’s take. For an overview, with an example of a recent pitch, stick with this.

Idea sharing is broken inside most companies

Most companies force you into a room and ask you to put your best ideas forward. This “idea meritocracy’ isn’t really a meritocracy. The spotlight stealing extroverts drown out everyone else, due to their conviction and the number of people willing to support them. While the introverts, who may have better ideas, are left drowned out.

Confidence ≠ good ideas. 

Often overconfidence leads to failure via the devil on our shoulder named ego.

At the end of the session ideas aren’t fully thought through. A whiteboard full of sketches and a thin skeleton of a plan?! 

We can do better than this.

So we shopped around. And stumbled upon Basecamp’s approach.

Now, everyone has a voice. And we ask people to bring well formed ideas to the pitching table. Ideas thrown into instant message on a whim, are discarded immediately. 

This is what you must do if you want your idea to be considered at CreditStretcher.

We call it ‘making a pitch’

1- The Problem

It’s easy to pitch a solution without a problem. It happens all the time. Someone comes up with a “great” idea, announces it to the team and sometimes, wrongly, you build it.

No, no, no!

Every project started must be fixing some big problem. A bug fix. Difficult to understand instructions. UX issues. Marketing issues. Sales issues.

We want to know the root cause of the problem. Not just the superficial layers on top.

"Mighty rivers can easily be leaped at their source.” - Publilius Syrus

We’re a small team. We don’t have time to waste building features or running campaigns that are not strategic - that help us to grow and get better. In our case that means running it through a filter.

Does this improvement help us to deliver the easiest, fastest and fairest finance? 

If yes, we do it.

If no, we don’t.

Daniel Kirby, CEO at The Tech Dept, helped us come to this conclusion. Too many businesses waste time doing work that doesn’t matter. By using this filter, which Kirby calls the North Star, we do work that matters.

And Seth Godin said “we need to do work that matters for people who care”.

Combine Kirby’s and Godin’s advice together and you have a system that helps you to make good decisions with the needs of the user in mind.

2- Appetite

"Anybody can suggest expensive and complicated solutions. It takes work and design insight to get to a simple idea that fits in a small time box. Stating the appetite and embracing it as a constraint turns everyone into a partner in that process”. - Ryan Singer, Head of Strategy at Basecamp.

There is only so much time. You can’t do everything. Will this really move the needle? If the appetite is for another project, you know you’re not allocating time wisely.

3- The Solution

This is where most teams start.

But once you’ve defined the problem it becomes much easier to lay out the solution.

The solution is where we provide detail. That means screenshots, notes, scribbles, anything that helps the team see how this solution is going to help you reach your North Star.

Here, COO Christian Thisted, made it clear that there were some problems with the copy on this page:



The copy is confusing customers. That’s very important. So we made the changes right away.

Later he located some missing information that could cause us legal issues. And legal issues = a big appetite. Again, these were fixed immediately:


This visual pitch leaves nothing in the dark. I knew what was wrong, I could see exactly where it was and I could make the changes quickly.

Not everything is so simple.

Last week I made a long pitch to simplify the app user interface. I found some problems, data from Hotjar to show confusion from our users, located where the issues might be, stated the appetite as medium to large and then documented it in detail.

I can’t disclose much as this pitch is still ongoing with arguments and discussions with the team (more on that later).


This solution took development, design and marketing into consideration. I then tagged our CTO and Tech Lead into the pitch to get their feedback in the comments below as to whether my suggestions are possible.

Sidenote: I must make a point at this stage that we ask anyone making a product pitch to have some knowledge of how the tech works to save wasting time in suggesting unrealistic updates. 

In my case, I’m not a dev so I won’t comment on the backend, but I am free to make suggestions on frontend changes - UX, design, UI etc.

4- Rabbit Holes

Every project will have rabbit holes. You’re better off thinking about and documenting them now instead of being surprised later on. Or, worse (in my opinion) not putting enough thought and time into your pitch = confusion and wasted time for your team.

During the user interface pitch above, I raised concerns over using a third party javascript plugin to create a product tour feature once a new user logs in.

5- No-gos

Similar to Rabbit Holes, but with more certainty. Here is the No-gos section taken from my last pitch.

If we agree and this pitch is selected we should build this in parallel to the current version and test it side by side. We should not immediately throw out the old app design without testing it against this one. Running some side-by-side A/B testing of new users will give us very valuable data down the line when making more product design decisions.

How Basecamp write pitches

Right now, we’re working on sensitive projects. So I can’t show them to you. Instead, I’ve taken an example of Shape Up - which naturally is better formed than the pitches we’ve been creating so far.

Take a look:




How we do it in Basecamp:


We write a message in Basecamp - viewable by everyone in that team



We make the pitch - often 2000 words plus. Detail is essential!





We argue it out in the comments to collectively achieve the right decision


Conclusion

Now the world is adapting to the new normal (I prefer the new abnormal) there will be thousands of companies trying to force the round peg of office life into the square hole of remote work. 

It doesn’t translate that well.

A hour 10-person Zoom idea session = 10 hours of wasted productivity.

This approach, of crafting a pitch, being considerate and thoughtful of the problem and your team members is better. Much better!

For more on the subject, read Shape Up!

Joseph Pack

CMO at CreditStretcher. Nice to meet you!

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