Around the time of Fog Creek Software's ten year anniversary, I started thinking that if we want to keep our employees excited and motivated for another ten years, we were going to need some new things to work on. It occurred to me that we could easily afford to make four little two-person teams to launch four new products. That would give our developers more chances to move around from product to product when they got bored, which would make Fog Creek Software an even better place to work.
Each team, we decided, would be guided by the spirit of lean startups. They would ship early and often. They would listen to real-world customers instead of building things in an ivory tower. And they wouldn't be afraid to pivot endlessly until they made something that people wanted.
Next, we needed some business ideas. After ten years in management I still never knew what anyone was supposed to be working on. Once in a while I would walk around asking everyone what they were doing, and half the time, my reaction was "why the hell are you working on THAT?" So one of the teams started working on finding better ways to keep track of who was working on what. It had to be super simple and friction-free so that everyone would use it, but it had to be powerful, too.
We had an early idea called FIVE THINGS. Everybody would have a list of exactly five things that they were allowed to work on. The top two were things they were actively doing right now. The other three were things that they would do as soon as they finished the first two. But nobody was ever allowed to have SIX things assigned to them. If you have too many things on your to-do list, your motivation tends to sag.
Five Things wasn't the right idea, but it led us to the idea that became Trello. Pretty soon we had four programmers and two summer interns working on it. We started dogfooding the product when it was only 700 lines of code, and even in that super-simple form, we found it incredibly useful. By the end of the summer we realized we had a hit on our hands: an incredibly simple, easy-to-understand way for teams to collaborate online.
So without further ado, I'd like to introduce you to Fog Creek's newest product: Trello.
You’re reading Joel on Software, stuffed with years and years of completely raving mad articles about software development, managing software teams, designing user interfaces, running successful software companies, and rubber duckies.
I’m Joel Spolsky, co-founder of Fog Creek Software, a New York company that proves that you can treat programmers well and still be highly profitable. Programmers get private offices, free lunch, and work 40 hours a week. Customers only pay for software if they’re delighted. We make Trello, easy web-based collaboration software, FogBugz, an enlightened bug tracking and software development tool, and Kiln, a distributed source control system that will blow your socks off. I’m also the co-founder and CEO of Stack Exchange. More about me.