Why Designers Should Bet on the Shape Up Methodology

Robert Gourley Unsplash

Why Designers Should Bet on the Shape Up Methodology

The Shape Up methodology, developed by Basecamp, is an interesting process for designers who aim to manage risk and uncertainty in their projects. It differentiates itself from conventional methods like Scrum, as it does not rely on backlogs and offers more autonomy to design innovative solutions.

The Shape Up process consists of three primary stages: Shaping, Betting, and Building, each of which plays a critical role in how designers can work within the methodology.

In the initial Shaping stage, design teams work together to define the problem at hand and determine their appetite for solving it. This stage calls for strategic thinking where designers frame the parameters of the problem and identify potential risks. As designers, the ability to shape the outlines of the solution is key, and the methodology's emphasis on problem definition aligns well with the fundamental design thinking principles.

Next, the Betting stage offers a process where team members place bets on proposed solutions. This stage empowers designers as key decision-makers, emphasizing the value of their insights and expertise. Instead of following a dictated product plan, they have a voice in deciding which project is most worthy of their time and effort.

The final stage, Building, is where the rubber meets the road. Teams break down the chosen solution into scopes of work and utilize the Hill Chart, a progress-tracking tool unique to Shape Up, to track development. The six-week cycle for this stage offers a fixed timeline that encourages efficiency and discourages endless design edits (final_final_2_final.fig).

The cool-down stage of the Shape Up methodology acts as a transition phase after the cycle of intense, focused work. This stage is typically two weeks long and serves multiple purposes. It gives team members a chance to rest, recuperate, and gather their thoughts. It also allows time for fixing bugs, refining previously developed features, and addressing any minor tasks or cleanup that may have been ignored during the cycle. Importantly, it provides space for reflection, feedback, and brainstorming, ensuring that the team can embark on the upcoming cycle with a clear understanding of the objectives and goals. By incorporating this restorative phase into the Shape Up methodology, design teams can foster a sustainable rhythm of work and maintain high morale among their teams.

One critical distinction of the Shape Up methodology is its focus on solution delivery rather than ongoing feedback collection, which contrasts with methodologies like Continuous Discovery. This means that once the problem is defined, the team moves forward with creating and implementing solutions without constant interruption for feedback.

The autonomy intrinsic to the Shape Up method places the onus on designers to determine their paths within the broad outlines of the project, enabling them to leverage their unique perspectives and skills to shape the product experience. This process empowers designers to not just respond to pre-determined roadmaps but to actively participate in defining and creating them.

As designers continue to seek better ways of working, the Shape Up method is a promising framework that merges process with creativity.