Concerns before implementing Shape Up
Jotting down my apprehensions on the product methodology
This is part three of a six-part series on implementing Basecamp’s Shape Up methodology at my company:
Part three: Concerns with Shape Up
Before I embarked on the 'Shape Up' methodology experiment, I jotted a few things down.
How am I going to try this?
How long will this trial run?
How am I going to introduce this to the team(s)?
What are my expectations (good/bad/ugly)?
In this post, I want to talk about my apprehensions. What concerns me about implementing this product methodology? What can I expect would not work (for me, for my team, for my business)?
Here are some of my concerns with implementing Shape Up.
Handling distractions has always been one of our biggest challenges.
We've got a sprint, we've got tickets, we kick off and... customer request! Bug! Exploratory research!
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When you're running a SCRUM methodology, distractions (while irritating) are somewhat easy to handle. The time you set aside to do X tickets is now taken by Shiny New Distraction ™️. You swap one for the other.
With Shape Up, it’s a different story. Of course, the plan is not to handle them. At the core of Shape Up is the idea of focused time, free of distractions, on a single problem.
But I'm also a realist. While I can control my behaviour and somewhat control my product team's behaviour, I can't control all stakeholders.
My expectation is it will be extremely tough. I'll have to reiterate the purpose of this test often and stand our ground.
One of the most controversial aspects of Shape Up, to me, is this 'no backlog' approach.
To recap, Basecamp believe there should be no backlog. No central repository of 'things' the team wants to eventually do (aka never do).
While I agree that backlogs are stale and a PITA to manage (and often bring mental baggage to the team), I'm still not convinced there is an alternative. Even Basecamp don't seem to have a clear alternative. From chapter 7:
We don’t have to choose between a burdensome backlog and not remembering anything from the past. Everyone can still track pitches, bugs, requests, or things they want to do independently without a central backlog.
To me, that's just duplicating the work. If everyone's going to have their own backlog, why not centralise it?
My guess is this would work really well in a small team -- not so much in a company with many stakeholders that aims to plan things several years in the future (which has its own problems).
'Almost finished' work
This one is giving me nightmares, not going to lie.
According to Shape Up, a cycle is six weeks. No more, no less. If you're not done by the end of the six weeks, you don't finish the work -- you must re-pitch it for the next cycle.
They do offer one caveat: if all the leftover work is downhill. That's something, I guess.
Again, in theory, I love this idea. But if I put my realist hat on, I can totally see us reaching the end of a cycle and being almost done and struggling to park it because 'that's what the process says we should do'.
'Almost finished' work is such heavy mental baggage. We're almost there, damn it! Yet I know if we keep adding a couple of weeks to each cycle because 'we're almost there', then those six weeks end up not meaning anything.
I expect I'll struggle with this most. I'll have to be strict on myself -- won't be easy.
What happens if someone's sick?
What if your only designer is off for two weeks out of six?
To be sure, this one's an issue regardless of the product methodology you use. However, with Shape Up, it feels like everything is so much more high-stakes.
You prepare a pitch, you get an agreement, you kick it off. Then you have six weeks to get it done. It's like each cycle is a hackathon where you expect everyone to show up and do excellent work.
Combine that with the fact that a Shape Up team should be small (they recommend two devs and one designer) and it's a recipe for nightmares. If one person is sick for a few days and another has a week off, you instantly 'lose' about 20% of your time.
Again, this isn't isolated to Shape Up. And it's just life, right?
These are my main concerns as I embark on this journey. My plan is to keep an eye on them as we progress and write down how/if they really do end up affecting our team and performance.
My next post will include these findings along with general 'from the trenches' feedback. Stay tuned.