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Shape Up Method


What is the Shape Up Method?


Definition of the Shape Up Method

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. 

What are the origins of the Shape Up Method?

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. 

What are the benefits of using 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.

Key principles of the Shape Up Method

Here are the Shape Up Method’s five main principles:

Six-week cycles

Working in six-week cycles gives teams ample time to solve the problem identified at the start of the process. Teams don’t feel rushed, but they still have that fixed end date to keep them focused. 

Shaping the work

Leaders shape the work before they assign it to cycle teams. By defining essential components of a solution in relatively loose terms, leaders can provide enough information to guide teams without restricting their creative flexibility.

Making teams responsible

During the six-week cycles, teams have more responsibility than in other methods. These designers and programmers are empowered to determine tasks, establish objectives, collaborate, and work towards achieving their goals without being micromanaged. 

Targeting risk

Understanding risks and finding ways to reduce them is paramount with the Shape Up method. For example, the possibility of shipping the product or feature later than intended is a common danger to be addressed. 


Betting refers to picking products or features to be completed during a six-week cycle. Leaders consider options for approval or rejection and set the slate for the next cycle rather than maintaining a traditional backlog

Examples of companies that use the Shape Up Method

Here are four companies that successfully use the Shape Up Method:


Tensure has credited the Shape Up Method with helping narrow their focus and remember why they’re building a product. The six-week structure has enabled Tensure to work in a more effective, streamlined way without relying on confusing backlogs. 

Tensure has also praised the Shape Up Method for prompting managers to plan projects in more detail before putting them into motion.

Process Street

Process Street discussed its switch from the Scrum method to the Shape Up approach in a 2021 blog post. 

According to Process Street, the Shape Up method has led to a more collaborative problem-solving process, and all team members have the autonomy to solve problems unlike before.  


Thoughtbot found that designers and developers often struggled to finish the work they started, and providing context for others joining projects was difficult. Thoughtbot adopted the Shape Up Method and tweaked it to better suit their own processes. 


Fontawesome embraced the Shape Up method after experimenting with various Agile methodologies. The six-week cycles allow the team to achieve more than Agile’s shorter sprints, while the two-week cooldown periods are helpful for adding features that didn’t fit into a cycle.

shape up method

General FAQ

What is the shape up method?
The Shape Up Method is a product development approach that helps companies ship successful products on time, with less risk of missing deadlines and scope creep. During six-week cycles, teams clearly define user problems and work to solve them. Managers can use this time to shape pitches for future projects.
Who created the shape up method?
The Shape Up Method came from Basecamp. Though this was initially developed for internal use only, Head of Product Strategy, Ryan Singer, brought the approach to wider attention in his book ‘Shape Up: Stop Running in Circles and Ship Work that Matters’.
How to apply the shape up method?
Companies can implement the Shape Up Method into their own processes by placing more emphasis on communication among product leaders. They must be able to convey desirable outcomes, provide clear direction, and help product teams understand goals effectively to facilitate designers’ and developers’ autonomy.
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