Shape Up Forum

HEY and the Shape Up method

I’ve always been curious about how to apply Shape Up to much bigger projects, something like HEY. @rjs did Basecamp shape up HEY? How did you apply Shape Up to such a gigantic project (did I hear it took 2 years)?

(P.S. Congrats and great work Basecamp team on that new product!)


It pre-dates Shape Up by quite a bit, but you might find some answers in this article by Ryan:

Managing Product Development by Integrating Around Concerns

I’ll check that out! Thank you @briandrum.

We used Shape Up 100% for Hey.

6 weeks at a time! That’s the whole idea. Choose what is most important first, make a six week commitment, then pick the next most important thing. We never made a specific commitment longer than six weeks, except for the broad commitment that some number of cycles would go toward Hey instead of Basecamp.

For a while, the first set of cycles were purely R&D cycles. That means the work wasn’t really shaped, and the shaping and building happened in a blurry mix. Then once the key points of the design were settled, we switched into what we call “Production mode” with standard shaping, betting, building. Finally in the last couple cycles we ran in “Clean up” mode where there isn’t any specific shaping or betting, just a free-for-all to fix as many small things as possible.

Details on those three modes on this Twitter thread:


take a look at this episode of FullstackRadio

Jason Fried gave a few examples about how they are using Basecamp to manage the work for


Amazing! Thanks @rjs.

Awesome! I’ll check that out @Jeff. Thanks.

Hey @rjs, I understand the “bet six weeks at a time” mindset for large products or initiatives, but did you have any other artifacts that helped guide you toward an overarching vision? Perhaps some sort of “pitch” for the “broad commitment that some number of cycles”? E.g., “we’re going to spend the next 10 cycles building an actual end-to-end email solution. Here’s roughly what we’re going for…”

Or were you OK just spending time for a few cycles in the “blurry mix” until that bigger vision solidified from the bottom up?

Just asking because I think that’s our biggest hangup with using Shape Up for big “new product” level ideas that will require more than 6 weeks to complete.

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@levinelson First off, here’s an updated explanation of R&D vs Production Mode:

Yes, by the time Jason and David flipped to Production Mode and decided to commit X cycles to building out HEY, they had worked out the main tentpoles. R&D Mode is about getting to a place where the handful of key features are understood and the architecture is worked out.

Here’s another example right now for Basecamp 4. BC4 is different because we don’t need to figure out the core architecture — we’re building on top of BC3. In this case, I’ve been shaping a portfolio of potential projects to make up the bundle of 4.0. So far, Jason has said he’s comfortable spending 4 cycles on BC4. We’re still going to bet cycle by cycle, but we do have a set of pitches we’re looking at as our portfolio of options.

It was similar with HEY. By the time they got out of the fog of R&D mode, they could more or less count on their fingers the major projects they imagined they were going to want to do. Then they bet on those one cycle at a time.

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Ah, perfect! I didn’t know about that update to Shape Up. Your response and that new section are both incredibly helpful for thinking through a couple big initiatives we’ve got going on - thanks for responding so quickly.

Did you consider Basecamp bets alongside HEY bets?

Jason and David (CEO/CTO) decided to spend a number of cycles exclusively on HEY. Now as we go into 2021 they’re starting to talk about their appetite for Basecamp again in terms of when to go back to it, with how many teams, and for how many cycles.