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Shape Up 🏋️‍♀️

Shape Up is a set of product management techniques originally developed at Basecamp. As per their own words:

Shape Up is for product development teams who struggle to ship. If you’ve thought to yourself “Why can’t we ship like we used to?” or “I never have enough time to think about strategy,” then this book [Shape Up] can help. You’ll learn language and techniques to define focused projects, address unknowns, and increase collaboration and engagement within your team.

At AsyncAPI, we use Shape Up to enhance collaboration within the AsyncAPI core team.

How does it work?

In a nutshell:

  • We work on cycles of 6 weeks. People can pitch ideas before the cycle starts. If they're selected, they become bets. Otherwise, we get rid of them.
  • After the 6 weeks, we do a 2-weeks cool-down period. We use this time to contribute to other open-source software, fix some small bugs, and actually whatever we want. The only constraint is that everything has to be open-sourced.
  • We don't maintain a backlog. If a pitch is not selected, you can happily take it back on a future cycle.
  • Bets are divided into smaller sets of tasks called Scopes. A scope is nothing else than a group of related tasks.
  • We don't do time estimations. Instead, we set the appetite we have for a given pitch. In other words, we set how much time we're happy to invest on a given idea. There are 3 categories: small batch (1-2 weeks), medium batch (3-4 weeks), and big batch (5-6 weeks).

Why a hill chart?

Work is like a hill. You first have to figure out how to do something and then do the actual work. Most of the failing projects have in common that they have tasks you haven't really figured out how you're going to approach them. No blame here. Humans are really bad at estimating time.

With the hill chart, we emphasize on making sure we have figured out tasks first and we know exactly what we have to do.

Why appetite and not estimations?

Estimating how long a task is going to take based on the title and —hopefully— a description is nearly impossible. Most of the time, you need to get your hands a little bit dirty before being able to estimate something. You need to better understand the implications of a task to remove uncertainty.

So we first make a research on the topic we want to develop and make sure it's something doable, identify the rabbit holes, and define limits on what should be left out.

With that information, we can make sure it would fit in a cycle. Or the opposite, we know it would not fit and proceed to split it in multiple pitches or reduce its scope.

That said, just because something fits in a cycle, it doesn't mean we want to work on it right now. The appetite serves as a way to measure how much interest do we have in implementing something now. Therefore, that means appetite changes over time. You may want to dedicate a full 6-weeks cycle doing something you didn't want to expend a single week on a past cycle.