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The uncomfortable 'Shape Up' cool-down
Life after an intense 6-week cycle
I found the cool-down period harder than the core cycle.
During the six-week cycle, we all knew what we were working towards. There was a clear goal to achieve. We all got together to work on a single, joint aim.
The cool-down, however, seemed like an unknown.
Below are a few things I learned from running our first Shape Up cool-down.
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1. A clear line in the sand
I had to make the tough decision to cut a scope out of our cycle around week 5 (read the story). While disappointing, this decision taught me an important lesson: knowing when to draw a line in the sand.
Things could always be better. There are always more use cases, prettier designs, and better refactors.
The point of Shape Up, made consistently throughout the book, is that there is always more. It's up to you to know when to stop.
With the cool-down looming, I had to learn to say stop.
Looking back, I'm confident letting go was likely as hard for my team as it was for me.
2. Slowing down is hard
If I were to graph the work intensity across our team throughout the cycle, this is what it would look like:
The end was super intense.
Then, all of a sudden, we had to slow down. Poof.
A cool-down isn't called a cool-down for nothing. It's a period to pick up some of the slack we had to accept during the cycle.
It meant going from 100 to about 30 in terms of intensity. I found these helped the transition:
Monday morning catch up and cycle retro. We didn't head straight into new work. We first reflected on the previous work and had a chilled-out conversation.
First retro, then release. I scheduled the release into production after our conversation. Releasing can be stressful. I didn't want my team to come out of a stressful time to reflect on the past cycle.
Credit. I spent time carefully giving specific props and credit to each team member. This was easy since we knocked this cycle out of the park.
Tickets at the ready. Throughout the cycle, I collected the 'maybe later' comments from team members (without telling them I was taking notes). I then organised this list of 'maybe later' into an available pot of tickets. No priority or requirements. Just a helpful list of stuff they wanted to eventually come back and improve.
3. 'Other' work piles up
When I introduced the Shape Up framework internally, I had to reassure some department heads. Yes, 'other' work would still get done -- that's what the cool-down periods are for, right?
When we entered the cool-down period, I ate my words.
Work had piled up during our six-week cycle. Everyone wanted a piece of us to fix this, improve that, change this bit ('small stuff', as people tend to say).
This work + the cycle 'stuff' created a massive sprint. Not much of a cool-down.
Honestly, I found it hard to navigate this. I might not be able to solve this until we ship a few cycles and other departments start trusting the process.
Before our first cycle, I found the idea of documenting after release (as per Shape Up's guidelines) somewhat uncomfortable.
Now that I've gone through it, I know why.
During the core cycle, I had no time to document. Things were moving too quickly. Moreover, we iterated a huge amount throughout the six weeks. It made no sense to document something that might change two hours later.
I spent a good chunk of my cool-down time documenting.
5. Preparing the next cycle
Of course, I spent the bulk of my cool-down time preparing for the next cycle.
Given our small team (3 devs, 1 designer, 1 PM) and that this was our first attempt at a Shape Up cycle, I made sure not to disturb anyone during the cycle. That meant most of the technical shaping had to happen during cool-down.
That may or may not be the right way to do it. For now, I had no choice. Thankfully, I had:
A technical lead who trusted me.
One cycle under my belt (experience and trust).
A healthy backlog of ideas.
I shaped most of the work alone, bringing my tech lead on a couple of whiteboarding sessions to clarify things.
And then... we start again!
In my next and final post, I'll share my overall thoughts on the experience, what's next for my team, and more real-life Shape Up content. Stay tuned!