Deadlines vs Appetite

One of the concepts I found most interesting about Shape Up is the concept of appetite.

Like a deadline, appetite talks about the amount of time we’re going to spend on a feature or project. But the process is wonderfully reversed.

On the left, crossed out, the last step in planning is estimation and setting a deadline. On the right, the first step in planning is asking how long we want to spend on this work.

Instead of designing the perfect feature first and then asking how long it will take to build — or worse yet, just fixing an arbitrary deadline to the existing design — appetite first asks, “how much time do we want to devote to this work?” Then, it designs based on that desire.

By answering the time question first and doing so in terms of desire, appetite imbues the work with its value to the company: is the project worth a week, two weeks, a month?

Once we know how much time we’re willing to spend on a project, we can then design and build the features that can be delivered in that time frame. Of course, that means that the corollary to appetite is that scope must be flexible.

That is the opposite of how planning tends to work, where management sets arbitrary deadlines on a fixed scope. The only way your team can deliver work like that is by cutting corners and working long days.

Give it a try

Though the difference between deadlines and appetite seems subtle — after all, they both set timelines for work — I think the mental shift has profound ramifications for how we approach new features and projects.

Give it a try. Change your way of thinking. I think your team will be better for it.