Ryan Singer

July 28, 2021

14. Small tools for shaping

I'm experimenting with ways to demonstrate the path from a raw idea to a well-shaped pitch. That is, how to go from "I think we should spend time on X" to "here's a specific concept for X that we're confident we can ship in six weeks." Sometimes I have a clear concept in my head from the very beginning, and I just need to sketch it out...
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June 14, 2021

13. Beyond to-dos

When work is turned into tickets, our brains shut off. In ticket-land, the work is a given, and it's just a matter of "doing it." This is true for any traditional to-do software. The thing is, when smart people tackle work, they actually do work on the work to figure out what the work is. They do it in their heads or on paper next to t...
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April 20, 2021

12. Matching problems to business imperatives

I keep getting questions about the work that happens before shaping a project. How do we decide if a problem is worth shaping? When does a problem deserve further research to frame the problem better? To answer this, our natural instinct is to weigh problems against each other. We ask “is this problem worse than that one?” or “which pr...
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April 13, 2021

11. Research gives us the problem, not the answer

I often get asked about how research fits into timeboxed work. If a team is working in a cycle and they can’t decide on a direction, should they do research? How do they fit that in a fixed timebox? This cuts to a fundamental question of where research belongs. If the team can’t decide which of multiple directions is better, it means t...
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April 12, 2021

10. Some solution vs. no solution

It’s natural to argue over what is the best, most perfect solution. Who would want to build anything less? This is especially true when we have our design or development hats on with a specific idea we hope to see in the final product. But it turns out that in the shaping phase, what’s “best” isn’t always the right question to ask. I’m...
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April 9, 2021

9. Shorthand for shaping

Here’s a look at some shorthand I’ve been playing with, early in the shaping process. I use this when I have a bunch of stuff in my head for a design but I don’t know where to start. I don’t know if all the pieces are going to combine or not. I don’t want to just start randomly and find out that I’ve painted myself in a corner, hit a d...
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April 9, 2021

8. Team Integrated and Team Modular

A Shape Up reader wrote an email asking: “1) I work for a company building custom software for different clients. Many times our clients don't have the budget to pay for full-time programmers and designers for six weeks . . . the cost is kind of high for a small business. 2) How do the roles of frontend and backend work? What if a proj...
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April 9, 2021

7. Orthogonality is a choice

There are many definitions of orthogonality. For the overlapping worlds of design, engineering and business, we can summarize with this question: what needs to be solved together as one whole, and what can be solved separately? Two things are orthogonal if we can work on one of them without having to get into the details of the other. ...
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April 9, 2021

6. Work that energizes

After a few newsletters about defining work with pattern languages, a friend of mine said: "I don't get it. These pattern languages just look like outlines or specs. What's different?" Well, okay ... at one level it is just a spec. And maybe focusing too much on the pattern language format is misleading, because a format alone doesn't ...
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April 9, 2021

5. Video: Shaping a feature and writing a pattern language

In Christopher Alexander: A Primer I talked about project-specific pattern languages (49:02). Since then, I've shaped a handful of features for Basecamp 4 using pattern languages. The last couple newsletters gave a peek at that process (#3, #4). I have enough reps now that I'm ready to share more. So earlier this week, when it was time...
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