Shape Up by Ryan Singer


The work is shaped before giving it to a team. A small senior group works in parallel to the cycle teams. They define the key elements of a solution before we consider a project ready to bet on. Projects are defined at the right level of abstraction: concrete enough that the teams know what to do, yet abstract enough that they have room to work out the interesting details themselves.

  1. Set boundaries — First figure out how much time the raw idea is worth and how to define the problem.
  2. Rough out the elements — Then comes the creative work of sketching a solution. They do this at a higher level of abstraction compared to wireframes in order to move fast and explore a wide enough range of possibilities. The output of this step is an idea that solves the problem within the appetite but without all the fine details worked out.
  3. Address risks and rabbit holes — Once they think they have a solution, they take a hard look at it to find holes or unanswered questions that could trip up the team. They amend the solution, cut things out of it, or specify details at certain tricky spots to prevent the team from getting stuck or wasting time.
  4. Write the pitch — When the solution is shaped enough to bet on, things are packaged up formally in a pitch. The pitch summarises the problem, constraints, solution, rabbit holes, and limitations.


Bets, Not Backlogs


The tasks that aren’t there


I personally think that “Shape Up” is worth reading. It provides a great insight into how Basecamp develops their products. It’s not easy to adopt the complete process, but with experimentation, some of the concepts can be applied to other software development environments.



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