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How Tidelift uses Shortcut to develop their product from ground zero

Richard Huffaker

Tidelift, a remote-first company with headquarters in Boston, provides a SaaS solution for managing open source. When Tidelift was founded in 2017, co-founders Jeremy (Head of Engineering) and Havoc (Head of Product) were in the trenches of building the company’s first product, the Tidelift Subscription.

They knew they needed a project management tool to track their product development and help them understand their building process, but they didn’t want something too heavy-weight.

Prescribed just for software developers

In his past life, Jeremy was an engineer at Red Hat, HubSpot, and Google and used several different PM software solutions. This time around, he wanted a tool that prescribed a way for software developers to do their work so that he could avoid any grueling setup and just jump right in.

From his past experiences using Jira, Trello, and Asana, he felt those tools were dictated by having a process in place first. Since Tidelift was still in its infancy stage, the co-founders hadn’t thought that far ahead yet.

That’s when Tidelift’s Head of Product, Havoc, went to check out what was new in the world of project management and discovered Shortcut.

After stumbling upon an old blog post (that we'll soon by updating with its own series) about how Shortcut uses Shortcut, Havoc and Jeremy were intrigued and thought the tool might be a good fit. It matched the way they were thinking of building Tidelift, and they could see how Shortcut would enforce their work and inevitably make their lives easier.

The best thing about Shortcut is the speed. It’s a quick interface and reflects changes fast. That’s super important because if I’m going through a hundred things (which I just did last week) and I have to spend a minute per thing, then I’ll never be able to get through them.Jeremy Katz, Head of Engineering, Tidelift

Meaningful data for better decisions

Today, Shortcut is a part of how Tidelift ships every major milestone. The data that is collected in Shortcut helps Tidelift make decisions around staffing, shipping, and planning.

Shortcut has helped Tidelift:

  • Grow from ground-zero to supporting thousands of open-source packages and dozens of managed catalogs which are in use by major enterprises 
  • Scale project management and product development from 4 to 40 people
  • Evolve processes to be able to estimate their work, which is paramount for their product development

Need for speed—and simplicity  

How did Shortcut stack up to the project management alternatives? Jeremy breaks down the options he considered:

  • Jira: “Jira is infinitely customizable and flexible, but that comes with a lot of cost and overhead. Being able to jump into a tool with an opinionated view of the workflow to follow like Shortcut made it a lot simpler to adopt. “
  • Trello: “As a general purpose task management tool, Trello isn’t built to integrate with a developer workflow and thus would have required a lot more manual work from the team to reflect their work into it. With Shortcut, the structure is obvious and didn’t require teaching each new team member how we were mapping things into a general purpose tool like Trello.
  • GitHub PM tool: “I really wanted this to work -- having project management integrated alongside source code is the ideal case. Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of depth for longer-term and bigger picture planning that spans projects and organizations today inside of GitHub. Shortcut neatly fits into the flows and processes adopted by a GitHub-first team in a way that feels nearly native.”
  • Shortcut: “With Shortcut, it was easy to get started, but there’s depth as soon as you need it. The rest of the Tidelift team members also share the same sentiments. They especially appreciate the speed and overall simplicity of Shortcut.” 

Full visibility to ensure impactful work

At the very core, Shortcut is a place that all of Tidelift’s engineering and product team can collaborate. It provides visibility into everyone’s work and helps managers understand where the bottlenecks are and ensure their team members are working on the most impactful things.

On a daily level, Shortcut reduces the need for meetings, but still provides quick status visibility. This helps engineering and product managers nudge team members who might be stuck but aren’t vocal about it—which is very typical.

For the individual team members, Shortcut provides a structured way to see what everyone’s working on, what people need help with, and what’s ready to be tested. This makes each person more accountable, independent, and less reliant on management,

At the two-week iteration level, Shortcut allows Tidelift team members to track the progress of the work planned, which helps them gain a better understanding on an iteration basis. This guides planning for future iterations.

To put this impact into context, one of the big pushes that Tidelift had in 2021 was to make managed catalogs of open-source software more visible before a potential customer uses the product. That required a fair bit of work because they couldn’t create the catalogs as static content. Tidelift set an aggressive schedule, as most startups do.

Tidelift tracked all of the engineering and product work on Shortcut and utilized a single dashboard for a holistic status view of everyone’s work. It was crucial for management to have visibility into everything to pinpoint problems and make quick decisions and adjustments as needed. Shortcut’s stellar ability to provide visibility helped Tidelift meet its tight schedule.

A project management tool that scales with you

Since using Shortcut, Tidelift has grown from 4 to 40 employees. Tidelift has been able to evolve their use of Shortcut in a way that’s felt natural for them while not adding a ton of processes along the way.

One of the things that has become increasingly important to Tidelift is being able to estimate the time it takes to complete their work. For the rest of the organization to have trust in the engineering and product teams, this needs to happen consistently.

In the beginning, everything was unknown, and no guardrails could be put in place. Today, Tidelift can estimate their work, which continues to improve and become more accurate with the help of data from Shortcut.

As for the future of Tidelift, with more and more people using open-source, there is an increasing need for tools and services. Tidelift is uniquely positioned to help organizations manage their use of open-source, and Shortcut will be an important part of this journey.

We’re scaling quickly and have no plans of switching at this point. If anything, we’re leaning in and using it more heavily.Jeremy Katz, Head of Engineering, Tidelift