Modifying the Shape Up Process
9 March, 2021
We started implementing Basecamp's Shape Up product development process in November of 2019. In the very first cycle, we came across problems when we implemented Shape Up as is written in their book. As I've come to learn, Shape Up is not a one-size-fits-all solution and needs to be modified based on your organization's structure, product, and people.
One major problem we ran into is that Curology is a rapidly growing telehealth company with a physical product where we handle patient information and support complex workflows for our organization. There is a real possibility that a high urgency issue comes onto our plate that cannot wait. Examples include issues with marketing pixels (costing thousands of dollars to the business) and security concerns.
According to Shape Up, when an engineer is assigned to a project, that is an agreement that they will be undisturbed during the cycle so that they are able to deliver their project. In our first attempt at Shape Up, every urgent item ended up falling onto a free resource, which at the time was me, the Director of Product Engineering.
In order to build in more flexibility around resourcing, we now form a small team of engineers called the Strike Team at the beginning of the cycle, and they are disbanded at the end of the cycle. The Strike Team is generally led by an Engineering Manager and usually has a ratio to the rest of the engineers around 1:4 ~ 1:6. An engineer will rotate through the Strike Team multiple times during their tenure at the company.
When it comes to running the day-to-day operation of the team, it is up to the Strike Team Lead (Engineering Manager). We've run it mostly through a Kanban process where engineers could be assigned smaller bug fixes or high urgency tasks depending on the week.
Lastly, we funnel all of our incoming requests through the Strike Team so we could fulfill a request to assign an engineer to assist in the Shaping Up process.
- If you implement a process as it's written in a book, be ready to make some changes.
- Don't tie up all of your engineering resources in large chunks of time.
- Having one point of entry for all stakeholders makes it easier to triage and prioritize issues for our flexible resources.
- The Strike Team is also a great way to onboard new engineers on to your team.
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