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Shape Up Methodology: Pros and Cons

Updated: Jul 4, 2022

Learn what Shape Up is and its pros and cons in the article below.


Since the beginning of 2022, I had a chance to implement the Shape Up method within a start-up. Even though Shape Up is pretty new on the market and there is very little information about it, it can be highly efficient if used correctly. So let's review what is Shape Up and its pros and cons.




What is Shape Up?


Shape Up is a method used for product development and described by Basecamp.

Shape Up aims to remove the biggest constraints that development teams face while using other methodologies, such as:

  • Endless development and backlogs

  • No time for product managers to do strategic work because they busy with backlog

  • Long waiting time till the feature is released and handed over to customers

The method keeps the Agile concept of being iterative and having a quick response to business needs. However, it has a few Shape Up specific concepts:

Work shaping: Shaping is all about preparing requirements for what the team should deliver over the next cycle. Requirments are shaped into Pitches that define a problem, appetite, solution proposals, possible risks, and no-goes.

In Shape Up, you don't create a backlog, and you don't estimate Pitches. You set appetite - which means you specify how much time you want to spend on a specific Pitch (problem). If the team didn't deliver the Pitch within the given appetite - the pitch is canceled or if it is decided that the work is still worth it, teams take it into the next cycle (usually reshaped).

Pitches are like mini-projects if you will and they are either 2 or 6 weeks long.

The goal is clear - have a good vision of what should be developed over the next 6 weeks.


Six-week cycles: Work in Shape Up is organized in 6 development weeks, during which engineers are protected from other work except for Pitches.

The 6-week development cycle is followed by 2 weeks of cool-down when engineers take care of anything that wasn't taken as a Pitch (refactoring, improvements, bugs, or more minor features that are good to have but not Pitch worth).


Below is example of cycles and workflow:


Team takes ownership: In Shape Up, you work with very small teams, usually one or two engineers and one designer. This means that Pitch is assigned to one or a maximum of two engineers. When the cycle starts, engineers own their Pitches and are responsible for delivery. For reporting and communication, teams are using Hill Charts.

Proper risk management: Shape Up looks to reduce the risk by solving them or at least finding mitigation before the team even starts working on Pitch. Moreover, risks not to overcome can disqualify Pitch from being considered during the betting table.


Betting: There is no backlog in Shape Up. To decide what team will work on the next cycle, team held a Betting Table event during the cool-down period. The idea is to meet with the right stakeholders in the company and bet on what is worth working on next 6 weeks.


Below is an example of a simple decision-making process (however, this will be unique for every organization):



What are the pros and cons of Shape Up?


Shape Up Pros

  1. Efficient delivery: I found Shape Up to be highly efficient in terms of delivery. It definitely wins compering to any other Agile methodology.

  2. Clear requirements: In Shape Up, you have a clear vision of what needs to be achieved and what the problem is, which makes the decision-making process for engineers much simpler.

  3. Less time wasted on unimportant/high failure rate work: Shape Up gives you 2 or 6 weeks to validate whether a problem is possible or worth solving. Much faster than most other frameworks.

  4. UX/UI Designer time utilized carefully: Your UX/UI team doesn't spend much time on making designs before you even start development. In Shape Up, you work on designs when Pitch is chosen for the cycle and kicked off by the engineer.

  5. Most probably best risk management process: Shape Up is very careful about starting work that has identified risks that are impossible to fix upfront.


Shape Up Cons

  1. No space for reactive work: Shape Up doesn't account that during 6 weeks development cycle, you might have ad hoc requests or bugs to fix. A solution for this would be to dedicate a few people from your engineering team to cover reactive work during the cycle.

  2. Quality Assurance: Shape Up doesn't account for testing activities by the tester. And you might find it challenging to enable testing during development and not at the end of the cycle.

  3. Possible communication gaps: In Shape Up, you don't have any typical Scrum meetings. Yes, you don't even have daily - which might cause communication gaps. My strong suggestion is still to keep daily or syncs a few times a week.

  4. Knowledge Bottlenecks: Shape Up is not about a cross-functional team, so you might gain knowledge bottlenecks.

  5. No dependencies management: Shape Up doesn't introduce dependencies management; without taking your own initiative, Pitches might fail.

  6. Misuse or misunderstanding of appetite: If your organization doesn't use appetite properly and treats it as an estimation provided by Pitch Owner, you will probably face a failure and put too much pressure and unrealistic timelines on your engineers.

Fewer meetings, no backlog, no time waste, higher delivery success - Shape Up looks like an ideal process, and it might be an efficient process if you use it correctly and by purpose. Otherwise, if followed blindly and with no adaption to organization needs, it might simply fail.


If you are looking for Shape Up training or Shape Up implementation guidance for your organization, contact me at contact@scandido.com.

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