Shape Up Part 3: Building

Shape Up Part 3: BuildingShape Up Part 3: Building

In the previous article, Shape Up Part 2: Betting, we discussed how Betting allows to make decisions about which projects to schedule for the next 6-week cycle.

In this article, we’ll give an overview of the principles of the third and last part of the Shape Up methodology: Building.

Hand Over Responsibility

  • Assign projects, not tasks: instead of everybody getting disconnected pieces, we want the project to stay “whole” so we don’t lose the big picture. Plus, talented people don’t like being treated like ticket takers.
  • Done means deployed: at the end of the cycle, the team will deploy their work. QA happens within the cycle and the announcement is made during the cool-down cycle.
  • Getting oriented: the work in the first few days consists in figuring out how the current system works. This exploration needs to happen and asking for visible progress would hurt the project.
  • Imagined VS discovered tasks: there’s an important difference between the tasks we think we need and the ones we discover we need in the course of doing real work.

Get One Piece Done

  • Integrate one slice: front-end and back-end in parallel
  • 3 criteria to think about when choosing what to build first:
    • Core: core to the concept. Without it, other work wouldn’t mean anything.
    • Small: be able to finish something meaningful in a few days.
    • Novel: prefer the thing you’ve never done before to eliminate uncertainty.

Map The Scopes

  • Organize by structure, not by person: not for designers or programmers, but for Food Menu, Venue Setup, ...
  • Scope map: overview of the project, factored into scopes


  • The language of the project: scopes are more than just slices, they are the language of the project, which is used to report status, etc.
  • Discovering scopes: scope mapping isn’t planning, we need to walk the territory to draw the map. We don’t expect accurate scopes at the beginning, but after 1-2 weeks.

Show Progress

  • Work is like a hill: every piece of work has 2 phases:
    • Uphill phase: figuring out what our approach is and what we’re going to do
    • Downhill phase: execution


  • Putting tasks on such a graph allows management to see the progress at any time, without asking

Decide When to Stop

  • Compare to baseline: instead of comparing against the ideal, compare down to baseline – the current reality for the customers. It’s switching from “never good enough” to “better than what they have now”.
  • Limits motivates trade-offs: because of the six-week cycle that acts as a circuit breaker, it forces teams to make trade-offs. It’s switching from “wouldn’t it be better if…” to “is there time for this?”
  • Scope grows like grass: rather than trying to stop scope from growing, give teams the tools, authority and responsibility to constantly cut it down
  • Cutting scope isn’t lowering quality: making choices makes the product better at some things than others. It differentiates the product.
  • Scope hammering: instead of talking about “cutting” scope, we use an even stronger word – hammering – to reflect that we have to keep banging the scope so it fits in the time box
    • “Is this a must have?”
    • “Could we ship without this?”
    • “How likely is this case to occur?”
  • When to extend a project: in very rare cases, we’ll extend a project by a couple of weeks.
    • The outstanding tasks must be true must-haves that withstood every attempt to scope hammer them.
    • The outstanding work must be all downhill. No unsolved problems.


This article concludes the Shape Up series, a methodology that we believe is much better suited to software product development than Scrum.

It may take some thought and experimentation to adopt it, and you can start by adopting a few key concepts one at a time. Here’s a list of these concepts:

  • Shaped vs unshaped work
  • Setting appetites instead of estimates
  • Designing at the right level of abstraction
  • Concepting with breadboards and fat marker sketches
  • Making bets with a capped downside (the circuit breaker) and honoring them with uninterrupted time
  • Choosing the right cycle length (six weeks)
  • A cool-down period between cycles
  • Breaking projects apart into scopes
  • Downhill versus uphill work and communicating about unknowns
  • Scope hammering to separate must-haves from nice-to-haves

And make sure to have a look at the free online Shape Up book!

Wishing you lots of success!