Cool-downs: Optional, Required … On Demand?

Yesterday’s really good Meetup session sort of rattled my noggin a bit with regard to cool-down cycles.

For my first three cycles, I didn’t use cool-downs. The work was shaped so there was time to do the betting table at the end of each cycle. I know this is not best practice but we have a super small betting table and clear agreement (so far) on our next target condition. Speed to value was also important for me at the start, so three cool-downs = 1 cycle lost. (I also wanted to push the value of Shape Up to the executive leadership, so killing the gaps helped).

I fully expected to keep running this pace without cool-downs, but this last cycle (which ends tomorrow for me) was a doozy. COVID-19 related stuff that distorted the shaped work. I’m planning to take a two-week cool-down.

Anyway, I’m trying to see if anyone else has experimented with cool-down cadence, such as one-week vs. two, doing them at a ratio less than 1:1, or (which is my crazy idea at the moment) being able to pivot between unshaped cool-down cycles and Shape Up cycles based on internal and external need.

Thanks for reading!

For us cool downs aren’t just about “taking a break” but also for:

  • engineers to have a bit more freedom / exploratory work
  • handling technical debt not related to a core product initiative
  • bug fixes
  • other technical chores, e.g. improving tests, dev environment, deployments, etc.

As a result there’s basically always the desire to do them 1:1.

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Thanks for sharing! I’m strongly considering switching to 1:1.

I should clarify that I use Shape Up not for product but for marketing (!?!) and so tasks like bugs, tech debt and deployments aren’t things I worry about, but the time to explore freely could be valuable.

It might also be an opportunity to address marketing requests that didn’t make the betting table cut … but then that feels like cheating and then the cool-down becomes a to-do list of things you didn’t finish in the cycle.

Ryan said incredible discipline is required to keep those boundaries clear, and I’ll probably pivot to 1:1 and try to establish that discipline.

I have no idea how it is working out for marketing, so take this with a grain of salt.

Our cooldowns have been a learning experience for the team. I try my hardest to keep my fingers out of the developers cooldown period. It is very tempting to say “here is a task that doesn’t fit in any of the upcoming projects, it should take no more than a day or two, can you do it in your cooldown period”. I try my hardest to avoid that.

The benefits of the cooldown have been in my experience optimizations, documentation and increased test coverage of our system. The work developers want to do, but don’t necessarily find time to. For example, one developer increased the loading time of our application by 60%. Work he chose for him self (autonomy) and increases user satisfaction (performance). Something that I wouldn’t have prioritized anytime soon.

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No grain of salt needed :grinning: this is very useful insight! I think there might be a tendency for ad-hoc requests to float into a cool-down so protecting the team’s time to explore independently/choose their own tasks for optimization is a good strategy. Thank you for sharing.

Digital marketing isn’t really that different from a digital project if you think of it in the abstract – you’re creating a “thing” that helps a customer do something, whether it’s a product (get something done) or marketing (make a decision). (At least, that’s how I’m trying to justify using Shape Up.)

I think that’s really interesting and I’d love to hear more about how exactly are applying Shape Up for marketing work? Do you have engineers that you give shaped work to? Or is it a team of content creators? Or something else? Thanks for sharing! :slight_smile:

For what it’s worth, we have tried shorter 1 week cooldowns (execs didn’t like the idea of “giving engineers a two week break” sigh), but found it didn’t work, because it ended up not being enough time for anyone to get much done. So a lot of cooldown work either had to stop or it would bleed over into the start as a Cycle (neither are an ideal scenario).

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Thank you for sharing your experiences with a one-week cooldown! It is very helpful and has helped me stick to a two-week cool-down to start.

To answer your question, I straddle the betting and delivery team and am the closest to an engineer. So it’s pretty easy to shape the work. The rest of the small team are content creators. We’re using a specific mash-up of two frameworks to shape bets, frameworks probably different from most other product teams. Whereas a product team focuses on delivering a job to be done, our marketing focuses on increasing the probability of a potential customer doing something (or feeling some type of way).

Every other delivery team in our company is steadfast Agile™ (some Scrum, some Kanban) so I’m grateful to break from the herd and observe divergence.

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