The Shape Up Method is a product development approach designed to help teams shape and build products to a higher standard through clear definition and prioritization.
It creates a rigid, iterative structure in which small teams complete project tasks in six-week cycles before deploying their work. Each cycle is followed by a cooldown period typically lasting two weeks, during which teams can take on unscheduled work as required.
Each cycle usually starts with a problem to be fixed and takes teams right through to a satisfactory solution. Teams will reflect on what they’ve learned at the end of a cycle and recognize how these new techniques/skills/problem-solving capabilities can be applied to future projects effectively.
Teams comprise designers and programmers, and they’re empowered with more autonomy than they may be through other product development methods. They’re provided with complete responsibility for managing tasks, defining goals, and achieving them successfully.
So what do leaders do during the six-week cycles? They work on shaping pitches set to become new projects in the future, free of distracting micromanagement responsibilities. They can focus on creating projects that offer real value to the company and target customers/users alike.
The Shape Up Method was created by Basecamp, the well-known project management and team communication tool. This method is modeled on the company’s own internal approach to product development, and was introduced to the world in the book ‘Shape Up: Stop Running in Circles and Ship Work that Matters’. This was authored by Basecamp’s Head of Product Strategy, Ryan Singer, in 2019.
The company implemented the Shape Up Method when they were searching for an effective strategy for addressing various challenges, such as huge projects lacking clear parameters and fixed deadlines or everyday product development/management problems disrupting overall strategies. Shipping meaningful products at the right time was another key factor driving the development of the Shape Up Method.
The Shape Up Method offers companies a number of key benefits.
First and foremost, it helps and encourages product teams to define problems that need to be solved in a deeper, more detailed way before setting development teams to work. This reduces the risk of teams being required to essentially guess their way through certain tasks and is unclear what the value of a specific product may be.
As a result, it’s much more likely that teams will create successful products and ship them on time.
The Shape Up Method also enables managers to grant teams more autonomy, liberating them from time-consuming micromanagement. As teams no longer have such frequent, potentially-intrusive monitoring, they’re free to develop their own solutions based on the in-depth directions supplied at the start of the cycle.