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How Shopify got Slack wrong with "Chaos Monkey" 🙈

Last week, articles came out about how Slack isn't working for Shopify. What you can tell from the complaints and changes (dubbed "chaos monkey"), directly from the Shopify COO and Vice President of Product, is that the problem here is not Slack. The problem is that any tool, without proper implementation, ongoing management and knowledge of how to use it, will not work for you. Take a ride with me through my take on how Shopify got it wrong.

It's an older meme format sir, but it checks out

Complaint #1

“We have endless channel updates mixed with broad announcements and pineapple on pizza debates.

"We never assigned owners to channel management and lifecycles, never thought about our channel strategy long term, never gave our team the tools to understand how to send announcements, never looked at channel posting permissions -- never planned around our channels at all but expected them to magically work for us."

Aside from the fact this is a petty way of making this argument (and highlights a lack of fun in company culture), the actual issues here can be solved by simply spending time thinking about how you want Slack to work for you and your company. Doing a review of current state, understanding what is and isn't working, getting feedback from the team, configuring Slack to work as needed for the team and training the team. Just like any other tool that requires you to configure it and understand it to be most impactful. Though to configure it, you have to know what you want. So as you've learned more through using Slack, you should continuously administer the app to work for your business, team and people as needed.

Incremental improvement, not magic out of the box. 🔮

Complaint #2

“We’ve forced our async work into Slack – it’s bloated, noisy, and distracting,”

Since "forcing our async work" lacks detail, let's instead review the classic, overused, played out, go-to, easily resolvable criticisms of Slack.


If it's bloated, why is that? Is it again due to above points -- no planning, no strategy, no lifecycles, no channel owners, no admins, no owners... just a wild west workspace where everything goes? Of course that's bloated. No one owns it. No one is planning long term about what Slack looks like in a year and beyond. So you've tried nothing strategic and you're all out of ideas? How would your business run if you never did planning for it? If everyone just did whatever they wanted all the time?


It's noisy in the same way when you first get a cell phone is noisy -- all the notifications are probably on. Take a few minutes, sit down, go to preferences and adjust them and your whole experience changes. These things are set up by default, but are easily changed. This is like giving up on your iPhone because out of the box all the notifications are on -- duh, that's annoying. Set it up to work for you.


If you don't need to be part of a conversation, leave a channel. If you don't want to leave, mute the channel. If you don't want to be bothered, go Away or better yet -- go on Do Not Disturb. You are now offline! Better yet, go one step further - close the app. Done! Now you can focus on your heads down work. Then when you're ready, go back and check it like you do every other thing - business email, personal email, your phone calls, your iMessages, your Instagram, your Twitter, everything. Why is Slack different?

Slack Changes

In addition, the company de-populated all of its public Slack channels, removing all employees from them, deleting chat history, and lowering their limits to 150 people per channel. The company is evidently moving the bulk of its communication to Workspace by Meta, with Slack only serving as a direct message platform.

One of the core fundamentals of Slack communication are channels. The visibility and transparency they provide along with shared understanding -- having a history available for everyone all the time to see. Shopify said forget how your product was designed to be used, we are going to use it completely opposite to that. The thing is, using Slack as only a direct messaging platform is exactly what you would expect from someone who doesn't understand Slack -- defaulting to what they know, Slack works like iMessage.

"Chaos Monkey"

"All of this feels chaotic, which is kind of the point,”

Right, yes! The perfect cover! This is supposed to be chaotic!! 🌪

Using a tool incorrectly is one thing, but proactively prescribing to use it conversely to how it was designed to be used is chaos for chaos' sake. I cannot wait for the inevitable day when Shopify states they are no longer using Slack and proceed to blame the failure on Slack. 🙊

This is exactly why 21b exists. We are here to help Slack customers like Shopify improve their Slack usage, management and strategy. Instead of pulling the plug or going full "chaos monkey" -- if you are in the same boat as they are, reach out. I'm sure we can help you put Slack on a course for success. And while you're at it, check out Slack's success stories to see how companies like IBM, Lockheed Martin, Spotify, T-Mobile, RBC, Target, Intuit, BBC and other got it right. 🚀



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