Shape Up is an amazing new web-book by Basecamp that details the process they use to define, build, and ship their products. It has great insights, but I especially appreciated how many of the ideas presented just make a lot of sense. I often nodded along in agreement and recognized concepts that we share in our team. The framework is battle-tested and realistic, and there’s a good chance I’ll be able to integrate some new ideas into our existing workflow without having to reorganize how we think about everything to fit a new metaphor.

What I found the most impressive was how clearly they have defined the key ideas and concepts behind their process. Even if your team can find a groove and settle into a good way to work effectively, it takes a lot more effort to recognize why these things work and how they can be reproduced in different situations. Reading this document helped to solidify a lot of ideas I had encountered before but not fully appreciated.

The full document deserves a thorough read-through, but here is a summary of the main points for quick reference:

  • Raw ideas are shaped into a concept pitch, with implementation details left open for the team to work out.
  • Pitches are considered at a betting table and chosen for six-week work cycles.
  • Small teams of developers and designers will be given a shaped concept and six uninterrupted weeks to finish.
  • Work is broken up into scopes that incorporate front and back-end work. Scopes are finished roughly in sequence.
  • The status of scopes is displayed as being uphill (still containing unknowns) or downhill (solved and being executed)
  • The work must be shipped within the allotted time. Unfinished work won’t get an extension
  • Meanwhile, new concepts are shaped in parallel. The next betting table is held during a two-week cooldown between cycles.