Time to "Shape Up" your SCRUM processes? The new thing from Basecamp

Tim Abell · November 26, 2019

Basecamp, who are famous for carving out their own path in the software world have documented and shared their own way of defining and building their software-as-a-serice (SaaS) product, also known as “basecamp”. You can read the whole thing here: https://basecamp.com/shapeup.

If like me you’ve mostly worked with SCRUM/Agile/Kanban style teams you should pay attention to the ideas they share. Unlike many people who teach and follow the wikipedia truth of SCRUM as the way of building software, basecamp have not satisfied themselves with cargo-culting “industry best practice” and have instead carefully honed their own particular way of getting the best out of their resources.

Although the “ShapeUp” process is finely tuned to suit basecamp, there are many things in there that the average SCRUM team could take inspiration and improvement from without throwing out everything in place at the moment. An example I particularly like is the way everyone can bring a pitch to the betting table, from their own personal backlog of priorities, contrasted with the usual approach of throwing yet another another card/story onto the team-shared dumpster-fire of a backlog / todo-list and hoping it somehow magically gets to the top of the list just before all your chickens come home to roost.


Key features of shaping up

Shaping

  • An iterative process of taking concepts from initial idea to something that could be built with bounded risk and expectations.
  • A largely solo or pair exercise, but done in consultation with experts on the wider team.

Pitch

  • The output of shaping.
  • A detailed but high-level document outlining what should and shouldn’t be built, with room for discretion and design work by the designers and programmers.

Bets

  • There is a meeting where pitches are discussed, prioritised and scheduled for the next cycle of work, they “take a bet” on a pitch.
  • If a pitch blows its timebox, then the default is always to stop and it doesn’t get any special priority in the next cycle. This limits the risk of runaway unstoppable projects.

6-week cycle with gaps

Basecamp operate a 6-week period of building what was decided in shaping and betting. This can either be one 6 week bet or set of 2 week bets.

Once this is done there is a 2-week gap where people can do maintenance, tech debt paydown, plan new things etc.


If you’d like to hear a bit more about ShapeUp, have a listen to https://pod.timwise.co.uk/5 where I go over their process in a bit more detail with regular co-host David.

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