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Tim Abell
Tim Abell

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Time to “Shape Up” your SCRUM processes? The new thing from Basecamp

Basecamp, who are famous for carving out their own path in the software worldhave documented and shared their own way of defining and building theirsoftware-as-a-serice (SaaS) product, also known as “basecamp”. You can read thewhole thing here:

If like me you’ve mostly worked with SCRUM/Agile/Kanban style teams you shouldpay attention to the ideas they share. Unlike many people who teach and followthe wikipedia truth of SCRUM as the way of building software, basecamp havenot satisfied themselves with cargo-culting “industry best practice” and haveinstead carefully honed their own particular way of getting the best out oftheir resources.

Although the “ShapeUp” process is finely tuned to suit basecamp, there are manythings in there that the average SCRUM team could take inspiration andimprovement from without throwing out everything in place at the moment. Anexample I particularly like is the way everyone can bring a pitch to thebetting table, from their own personal backlog of priorities, contrasted withthe usual approach of throwing yet another another card/story onto theteam-shared dumpster-fire of a backlog / todo-list and hoping it somehowmagically gets to the top of the list just before all your chickens come hometo roost.

Key features of shaping up


  • An iterative process of taking concepts from initial idea to something thatcould be built with bounded risk and expectations.
  • A largely solo or pair exercise, but done in consultation with experts on thewider team.


  • The output of shaping.
  • A detailed but high-level document outlining what should and shouldn’t bebuilt, with room for discretion and design work by the designers andprogrammers.


  • There is a meeting where pitches are discussed, prioritised and scheduled forthe next cycle of work, they “take a bet” on a pitch.
  • If a pitch blows its timebox, then the default is always to stop and itdoesn’t get any special priority in the next cycle. This limits the risk ofrunaway unstoppable projects.

6-week cycle with gaps

Basecamp operate a 6-week period of building what was decided in shaping andbetting. This can either be one 6 week bet or set of 2 week bets.

Once this is done there is a 2-week gap where people can do maintenance, techdebt paydown, plan new things etc.

If you’d like to hear a bit more about ShapeUp, have a listen to where I go over their process in a bit moredetail with regular co-host David.

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