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PDP #5: Shape Up Method

In their latest book, Basecamp introduced their internal approach to product development. It was described by Ryan Singer, Head of Product Strategy at Basecamp, in the book Shape Up: Stop Running in Circles and Ship Work that Matters.

Singer writes, “one of the core tensions in product management is the urgency of day-to-day implementation details vs. the necessity of strategic planning. Left unresolved, this tension leads to a slew of practical problems (missed deadlines, tangled codebases) and low morale.”

As the team started to grow, Basecamp spotted some challenges that led the company to seek new ways to address these pains. For instance, lack of clear understanding of the project endpoint, no time for strategic sessions, the ability to ship products on time, and meeting stakeholders’ expectations. This led the team to come up with their approach to product development.

What is the Shape Up Method?

The Shape Up Method is the so-called tool used by product development teams to shape, bet, and build products. It gives product teams certain techniques to better define and prioritize projects and address risks at each stage of digital product development to build and ship better products.

This method turned out to be super effective for the Basecamp team. But what about other organizations?

We talked to Vi and Canaan from Careerplug, a recruiting software. In the new episode of the Product Drama podcast, they shared how to work in a team with no product managers and start applying Shape Up in your company – so that you can optimize the development process and improve team communication.

Must-listen moments

2:20 – How to organize the development process with product managers?

Vi: “When we did have Agile and were practicing it, none of us felt that it was our natural inclinations. We felt better when we were working together, as closely as possible, which Shape Up allows us. With Agile and product manager in place, we felt like we had that one person to manage every of the work we were doing and how it was done, which kind of muddied the waters. And we like the idea of working closely together, especially the designers and developers”.

6:06 – What does a pitch in Shape Up look like?

Canaan: “It generally encapsulates a proposed solution, an appetite, which is how long are we going to stay working on this, and kinda like boundaries sets like where we are not going to go. Instead of saying, “we want to implement X, how long will that take?” We kind of switch that statement around to say, “here’s a problem that the business is facing; how much time are we willing to spend to solve that problem?”

13:28 – How to work without a backlog?

Canaan: “That allows us not to lock ourselves into the concept that we certainly have to do this, as we haven’t gone to it for six months, and we are going to do it now anyway. So maybe these six months from now, the thing that we were potentially talking about, means nothing for us. It allows us to change quickly”.

23:45 – How to avoid the most common mistake when writing pitches?

Vi: “We’ve been learning up with pitches that require a ton of discovery work within the cycle period. So when the team should be focusing on building up the solution and figuring out what is deliverable within six or two weeks, they are suddenly stuck with defining what the solution is altogether instead of pairing it down and delivering something. So I think that was one of the biggest mistakes”.

31:08 – Tips for those who want to start with Shape Up.

Canaan: “Be open-minded and non-reverse to change.”

To listen to the entire episode and learn how the team from Careerplug managed to optimize their processes with the help of the Shape Up method, click the video below:

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