Shaping Up Your Development Process

Martin Snyder / @MartinSnyder / Pinnacle 21 by Certara

A Story in Five Parts

Part 1 - The Book

Part 2 - Off to a Great Start

Part 3 - Down to Business

Part 4 - No Leaders

Part 5 - Accountability

Epilog - Common Agile Failures

  • Focus on 100% resource utilization
  • Lack of ownership
  • Ineffective or absent collaboration
  • Us vs. them mentality, unidirectional relationships

Remedial Agile

Properties of Agile Teams

  • Self-organizing
  • Cross-functional
  • Highly engaged
  • Empowered
  • Constantly collecting feedback

The Whole Point

  • Build the right thing
  • Always maintain your release capability

Introducing Shape Up

There is a book

Obligatory XKCD Reference

Introducing Shape Up (2)

Shape up is a macro-level agile methodology focused on the product / engineering collaboration


A written proposal expressing a problem area, solution parameters, justification, and boundaries

NOTE: Anyone can write a pitch!


Budget, in the sense of how much "product" is willing to spend on a specific pitch.
  • Typically expressed as either a "Small Batch" of 2 weeks or a "Big Batch" of 6 weeks.
  • Items that exceed their appetite are returned to the betting table for re-assessment.


Ritual where the product team discusses the available pitches and chooses which ones to invest in.


Discussion, between product, engineering, design, and test, to decide a preferred implementation within the appetite.


The execution phase of Shape Up. Divided into a planned, development phase (termed "Batch") and a unplanned phase (termed "Cooldown")

Pinnacle 21 by Certara Shape Up Implementation


  • No silver bullets - all changes require effort
  • Process improvement won't address a people problem
  • Pinnacle 21 by Certara delivers enterprise software products to a regulated market
  • Your Mileage May Vary

Collaboration Model - Key Roles

  • Product Analyst
  • Product Designer
  • Software Engineer
  • Software Tester

Staffing Ratios

  • 6:1 Engineer to product ratio
  • 4:1 Engineer to test ratio
  • 15:1 Engineer to design ratio

Cycle Timelines

  • Betting meeting is held at start of cooldown
  • When on schedule, 25% of total engineering time is unplanned
  • Carry-over is deadly

Release Timelines

  • We introduced "Release Finalization" to manage our infrequent release schedule
  • Includes merge, refinement, and end-to-end testing

Betting Responsibilities - Product

  • Present pitches the author is willing to fight for
  • Balance intuition with data and research
  • Focus on problem articulation
  • Prepare for negotiation without negotiating

Betting Responsibilities - Engineering

  • Understand all pitches and highlight risks and issues
  • Clarify actual engineering capacity available
  • Articulate and enforce constraints
  • "Technical Initiatives" that cannot fit into cooldown activities are represented as pitches

Desired Betting Outcomes

  • Available engineering capacity is consumed
  • 50-75% of authored pitches are selected
  • Authors whose pitches were not selected are angry
  • Selected pitches reasonably reflect portfolio priorities
  • Engineering organization is able to produce an execution plan

Execution Additions

  • Similar efforts will be grouped together for better coordination
  • "Second opinions" available during negotiation
  • Scorecard completed at the end

Variable Application of Shape Up

Phase Description
Beachhead 1:1 collaboration between product and engineering
Investment Mostly big-batch items heavily researched
Refinement Mostly small-batch items with analytics support
Maintenance Unplanned collaboration


Create New Specification (Before)

Create New Specification (After)

In Application Quizzes

Spec Chat


P21 Addons

  • One betting table across portfolio
  • Grouping of efforts during execution
  • Beachhead efforts outside of Shape Up
  • Curated list of technical initiatives
  • Second opinions during negotiation
  • Shape Up scorecard
  • Release finalization

Lessons Learned

  • Be strict about appetite, protect cooldown
  • Reward those most effective in cooldown
  • Collaborate during negotiation
  • Encourage pitch authors
  • Expect more from your team


Thank You!

Martin Snyder / @MartinSnyder / Pinnacle 21 by Certara