Ready to use this template?
At Robinhood, we wanted to find a way for builders to use specialized tools, while also allowing people across the company to access and share information without interruption. Instead of repeatedly setting up meetings or pinging on Slack, we found a simple alternative: Coda.
Builders and their tools — It’s a love story
Building simple, intuitive, and delightful products is hard. It requires a special combination of people, tools, and environment to make it happen. Too often, however, companies focus their energy on getting the right people, hoping that the rest solves itself.
But the right tools are critical for builders: Bob Ross had his palette knife, Jiro Ono has his brush, and Robinhood’s designers have Figma.
Tools like these are chosen to meet each builder’s unique needs, making them more comfortable and effective. Whether it’s Contentful for content strategists or Phabricator for diffs, we live in a golden era of tools for software builders. With so many choices, builders develop strong preferences, habits, and emotions around the tools they use.
Meetings and messages conspire
As each tool serves its unique builder community, each builder invests in sharpening their tools. The result is a series of well-maintained yet separate silos, each with their own commenting systems, naming conventions, permissions models, and hidden gems of relevant, important information.
In a world filled with abundant information stored in various specialized and separated tools, most people find themselves with the plight of the Ancient Mariner—
water, water everywhere, not a drop to drink.
So, what do builders do when they can’t find information they need to do their work? They ask others for help.
Helping your fellow builder is nice, but it can also be a flow-killer. Slack messages start popping up throughout the day, meeting invites multiply on calendars, and “quick questions” appear in every inbox. Before you know it, precious blocks of
are chopped into pieces.
An asynchronous way?
At Robinhood, we built a Coda doc to be the
“air traffic control”
between all of our builders (and their managers). Coda sits on top of the specialized tools Robinhood builders choose, connecting everything at the project-level, under a single link.
Here’s what our Coda system keeps track of:
- When new team members join Robinhood, we ask them to add themselves to the team page (see:
) of the group they work with. These act as an “unofficial org chart” that keeps track of who’s working on the same projects across functions.
New projects and updates
- Every Monday, PMs are asked to take stock of the projects their teams are working on. They add new projects, update the status of existing projects, and add links to related work (e.g.,
). This weekly investment of ~15 minutes per PM creates a robust single source of truth for all ongoing project work at Robinhood.
- As a financial services company, we have a rigorous process for formally approving projects. Instead of myriad meetings (or aggressive Slack-ing) for reviews and approvals, we identify approvers for each project, request and grant approvals with the click of a button.
A little less conversation, a little more action.
These small steps remove the need for many meetings and messages. When it’s all rolled together, here’s what our “air traffic control” system becomes:
A place to track your own work
- If you’re a builder, all of your work ends up on your team page (see:
) and if you’re an approver, all projects waiting for your review and approval show up on a single page too (see:
Auto-updated team roadmaps
With project updates in a single place, anyone can see the work that teams are planning and executing (see:
). Managers can also share summaries with the organization in the same place (see:
- Want to know when a feature is going to launch? Need to figure out who was the designer on a project from last year? Want to see who approved that model change? Hit the search in Coda, and you get what you’re looking for like magic.
More productive standups
- Since project updates and approvals live on team pages (see:
) anyone can check in on a team’s progress without calling a meeting. This reserves meetings for solutions, not statuses.
Narcbot: A hero for our time
OK, I can hear some of the questions already:
... won’t this fail if PMs don’t remember to write updates?
... won’t this only be as good as the quality of the updates?
... don’t you still have to follow-up on Slack to make sure people get approvals in?
Well, with Coda’s
and a few custom rules, we created
, a loving-but-stern reminder bot that automatically takes care of most of those issues, without requiring active policing. Here’s how it works:
Every Sunday night, our Coda doc automatically archives last week’s project updates, and leaves a clean slate for teams to update the next day.
If an active project is not updated properly or is missing links, Narcbot sends a Slack (on my behalf), to the offending party on Tuesday morning, pointing to the specific project that’s missing info.
If there’s an ongoing project with a projected ship date that’s in the past, Narcbot will send the owner a friendly reminder, ensuring our launch calendar stays up to date.
Using Coda in this way allows builders at Robinhood to share their knowledge and experience with each other without getting distracted from each of their unique obligations. It saves us a lot of headaches, prevents a lot of haphazard emailing and pointless video chats, and helps us all stay productive and on-mission.