Slack’s Missing Manual

Last week, I joined a new Slack workspace. It was particularly active. And I quickly found myself distracted by incessant notifications.

I would spend a few minutes every hour catching up on all the unread channels — scrolling through message upon message of irrelevant information — just to ensure I wasn’t missing the rare important message.

My autonomy over my attention was slipping. “Why don’t I feel this way in other Slack workspaces?” I wondered.

Slack is ubiquitous among startup teams. But it doesn’t scale automatically with teams. Instead, we need to architect Slack standard operating procedures (SOPs) that support our teams’ business operations. This takes intention and thoughtful design.

When you fail to architect Slack SOPs, you induce drag on your team. An information flood of useless notifications and noise saps your team’s attention.

Like your org chart, your codebase, and your financial models: you need to re-design your team’s Slack SOPs as you scale.


Macgyver-ing Slack

Slack is a messaging tool. That’s it! But we overload it — jerry-rigging it to act as many other things. Some examples that we use Slack for at Retriever:

  • ticket tracking
  • knowledge base
  • logging of outputs from web workers and cron jobs
  • a virtual water cooler for sharing cat memes

This Macgyver-ing Slack to your team’s needs seems unavoidable. We do the best we can with the tools we have. Your team’s jerry-rigged Slack uses are unique, as are ours at Retriever.

I’ll share the best practices and SOPs that have worked for our team, to help get you start building yours.


General Best Practices + Hygiene

1. Keep conversations in threads
In order to keep the channel clutter to a minimum, try to respond in threads so that messages are kept nice and neat.

2. Keep work out of DMs
Try not to post work-related items in DMs with other teammates. Use the appropriate channels, including internal client channels to discuss these items so that everyone has context and can find the info if needed.

3. Pin messages that need action
Many messages require action by a channel moderator. Pinning the message creates a queue for the moderator to triage, and makes it easy to see which messages require action at a glance in the channel.

4. Emoji reactions
Building on Slack’s own best practices, we’ve mapped particular meaning onto emojis. e.g.) making “read receipts” by reacting to a message with :eyes: to indicate that you’ve read it.

Here are all of our standardized reactions:

We keep these pinned to the top of our #team Slack channel for easy reference.

5. Assign a Moderator
Each channel is owned by a teammate. That channel owner is responsible for ensuring that channel-specific operating procedures are being followed.


Ticket Tracking in Slack

We have a #questions channel in Slack that operates as a just-in-time knowledge base.

When someone has a question whose answer they can’t find in Notion (which is Retriever’s central OS), they:

1. Post it in the #questions channel
2. Pin that post
3. Prefix their post with a 🔴, 🔵, or ⚪️ depending on the urgency of their question (see Tactic #1 above)

Next, the moderator of the #questions channel answers the question, or pings the relevant specialist who can answer.

Once the question has been answered to the satisfaction of the teammate who asked, that teammate will:
1. react to the original question with ✅ :check:
2. and, unpin the message (so that the moderator knows it’s out of their task queue)

Pin the Standard Operating Procedures

For each channel that’s being jerry-rigged for some non-standard business process, do the following:

1. Create a short description and set the channel topic
2. Write out the SOPs
3. Post them in the channel
4. Pin that post to the channel

Want an example?

At Retriever, #response-queries channel is where new teammates get practice drafting responses for our clients. They submit draft responses to be proof-read by an account manager before sending the responses out.

Here are the steps we used to set up the rules for this jerry-rigged channel:

1. Set the topic

2. Write out the SOPs

3. Post them in the channel & 4. Pin the post, so that any teammate can easily find it


Making the most of imperfect tools

Jerry-rigging Slack isn’t the most elegant solution to your business ops needs. But it’s fast and agile.

As long as you take the time to 1. spec clear standard operating procedures, 2. articulate them, and 3. ensure that they’re being enforced, you’ll be able to make the most of this woefully off-label use of this simple messaging tool.

How to live longer

The life we receive is not short, but we make it so. Nor do we have any lack of it–but are wasteful of it.

Seneca the Younger

Time is our most scarce and valuable resource.

Our calendar is the foremost tool that we use to manage and control our time.

Mastery over that tool gives us better control over the usage of our most scarce resource, time.

Spending our time

I get on a bit of a soapbox about time, and its premium in my personal philosophy and ethical system. Sometimes this can feel almost pathological. Why?

  • Over-emphasis on time can cause you to obsess over it — pulling you out of the moment, and keep you from being present. It can allow time to slip by.
  • And the dark side of the time value of money is that it reduces a moment with a loved one down to a dollar value. You can put a price tag on everything, including the hour you spent playing with your children. Was it worth it? At what price wouldn’t it have been worth it? Everything has a price! See how this kind of logic – this rational economics calculation – can pervert moments that feel valuable beyond reduction to a dollar amount? There’s a part of our moral compass that wants certain things be sacrosanct – pure, and off limits from economic principles.
  • Finally, if “time efficiency” is the utmost goal – for the sake of economizing that time, where’s the “human element”?. What inherent worth do I have as a human, whether or not I’m optimizing this scarce resource?

To all that I say, “yeah, ….but you have X more days to live”. [In my case, X ~ 22K]

And then nothingness.

So, how are you going to spend those days? Frugally? Wantonly?

How about thoughtfully and deliberately?

The core economic concepts of time value of money, opportunity cost, time discount factor, and efficiency all drive us towards a more thoughtful and deliberate use of our most scarce and valuable resource: time.

Shortcuts

Want a huge leap towards mastery of your time? Learn to use your calendar’s shortcuts.

The difference is night and day. The small friction you feel every time you need to navigate your calendar dissolves. You’ll feel much greater ease of control over your calendar, and therefore, your time.

Google Calendar Shortcuts

T = brings you to current {day, week, month}
W = weekly view
D = daily view
M = monthly view
J = go forward (next {day, week, month})
K = go backward (previous {day, week, month})

Sample ‘Recipes’

Now, when I need to navigate my time, it’s so quick!

I reflexively — and therefore, effortlessly — navigate the UI of my time.

Example 1. “What am I doing tomorrow?”
=> type D (daily view), T (today),J (next day). boom!

Example 2. “What day did I meet up with X last week?”
=> type W (weekly view), T (this week), K (previous week). voila!

How to set it up

1. Go to settings: https://calendar.google.com/calendar/b/1/r/settings

2. Enable shortcuts:

3. That’s it! Take a few min to learn these, and enjoy greater autonomy over your most scarce resource ⏳

Fin.

Appendix

Official Resources for iCal and GCal:

More on GCal shortcuts from support.google.com

Or, if you use iCal: iCal shortcuts

A/B Test Result Calculator

Here’s a simple tool that you can use to test whether the results of your A/B Tests are statistically significant. Happy growth hacking!

Instructions

Plug in your two variations sample sizes (n1 and n2) and estimated success rates (p1 and p2), and scroll down to Interpreting The Results, to understand the results of your test.

The Hypothesis Specification explains how to formulate your A/B Test experiment.

Sample Size A:
Success Rate A (%):
Sample Size B:
Success Rate B (%):


Interpreting The Results

This section will populate after you complete the form above.

Hypothesis Specification

Null Hypothesis: Success Rate A ≥ Success Rate B
Alternative Hypothesis: Success Rate A < Success Rate B
Significance Level, ⍺: 5%


Reference Inputs and Computed Statistics

This section will populate after you complete the form above.


Sample distributions. Red: Variation A. Green: Variation B. The Null Hypothesis is that the true, population average of the distribution that generated the red sample is higher than the true, population average of the distribution that generated the green sample. The Alternative Hypothesis is that green’s underlying distribution has a higher average.

The Magic of Statistics

In statistics vernacular, we’re doing a test of “difference in proportions”, or a “two-proportion z-test”.

The data that we’re considering is analogous to a repeated coin toss. You flip the coin, and it either comes up heads or tails. Then you do it again, and again, …

The distribution that this sort of data follows is called a “Binomial Distribution”. It’s characterized by two parameters: sample size (denoted by the variable n, for number of coin flips), and probability of success on any given “coin flip” (denoted by the variable p, for probability of success).

Many business applications with a discrete outcome follow a Binomial Distribution:

  • ad click-through (n = number of ad impressions, p = probability of click-through),
  • email open (n = number of emails sent, p = probability of an email being opened),
  • website sign-up (n = number of website visitors, p = probability of a visitor signing up),
  • checkout conversion (n = number of users who go to the checkout page, p = probability of successful checkout)

As such, we often gather this data in the course of growing our businesses: optimizing our ads, websites, and funnels for conversion.

In order to improve, we iterate and run split tests on different variations of these funnels.

To understand the results of these split tests, we need to use statistical methods like the above difference in proportions test. That way, we can have confidence in moving ahead with the best variations for our sales and marketing funnels.


Here’s the stats theory:

We first take the two parameters that we need to characterize each sample’s distribution: the sample size (n) and estimated proportion of successes (p). What we’re doing is taking these two poorly behaved sample Binomial distributions, and merging them together to create a well-behaved statistic, the Z-statistic

We construct a well-behaved Z-statistic from our sample data (n1, p1, n2, p2). The Z-Statistic follows a Gaussian or Normal Distribution, ~N(μ=0, σ=1), from which we can determine the probability of witnessing the data that we witnessed, under the Null Hypothesis.

From there, we’re able to easily evaluate the probability that what we saw was due to chance (the “p-value”), and therefore, determine which variation of our split test had the higher Success Rate (p).

The further our Z-statistic is from 0, the lower the probability that the Null Hypothesis. is correct.

Luckily for you, the above tool will not require you to do even think about the Z-statistic! But it’s probably helpful to have some idea of what’s going on under the hood.

Note:

This gets much more complicated when considering one- vs two-tailed tests, and varying the hypothesis specification. So please, for simplicity, and to avoid errors in your analysis — make sure that you specify your hypothesis as formulated above.

Hope this helps! Happy growth hacking 😁📈

Further Reading:

Hypothesis Test: Difference Between Proportions
An Introduction to Hypothesis Testing [Youtube]