Shape Up

Shape meaning

Shape p is for product development teams who struggle to ship. Full of eye-opening insights, Shape U will help you break free of «best practices» that aren’t working, think deeper about the right problems, and start shipping meaningful projects.

Who shapes

Shaping is creative and integrative. It requires combining interface ideas with technical possibilities with business priorities. To do that you’ll need to either embody these skills as a generalist or collaborate with one or two other people.

Shaping is primarily design work. The shaped concept is an interaction design viewed from the user’s perspective. It defines what the feature does, how it works, and where it fits into existing flows.

You don’t need to be a programmer to shape, but you need to be technically literate. You should be able to judge what’s possible, what’s easy and what’s hard. Knowledge about how the system works will help you see opportunities or obstacles for implementing your idea.

It’s also strategic work. Setting the appetite and coming up with a solution requires you to be critical about the problem. What are we trying to solve? Why does it matter? What counts as success? Which customers are affected? What is the cost of doing this instead of something else?

Shaping is a closed-door, creative process. You might be alone sketching on paper or in front of a whiteboard with a close collaborator. There’ll be rough diagrams in front of you that nobody outside the room would be able to interpret. When working with a collaborator, you move fast, speak frankly and jump from one promising position to another. It’s that kind of private, rough, early work.

Steps to shaping

Shaping has four main steps that we will cover in the next four chapters.


  1. Set boundaries. First we figure out how much time the raw idea is worth and how to define the problem. This gives us the basic boundaries to shape into.
  2. Rough out the elements. Then comes the creative work of sketching a solution. We do this at a higher level of abstraction than wireframes in order to move fast and explore a wide enough range of possibilities. The output of this step is an idea that solves the problem within the appetite but without all the fine details worked out.
  3. Address risks and rabbit holes. Once we think we have a solution, we take a hard look at it to find holes or unanswered questions that could trip up the team. We amend the solution, cut things out of it, or specify details at certain tricky spots to prevent the team from getting stuck or wasting time.
  4. Write the pitch. Once we think we’ve shaped it enough to potentially bet on, we package it with a formal write-up called a pitch. The pitch summarizes the problem, constraints, solution, rabbit holes, and limitations. The pitch goes to the betting table for consideration. If the project gets chosen, the pitch can be re-used at kick-off to explain the project to the team. 1

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