Published in


Week 13, 2022—Issue #197

Basecamp’s Hill Charts: Emergent Scope, Time to Clarity, and Proximal Development

Photo by Eric Masur on Unsplash

Each week: three ideas to help up create better organizations. This week: three ideas to help us work with uncertainty. (Originally published in the WorkMatters newsletter in April 2022).

Every piece of work has two phases”, writes Ryan Singer in Shape Up: Stop Running in Circles and Ship Work that Matters. “First there’s the uphill phase of figuring out what our approach is and what we’re going to do. Then, once we can see all the work involved, there’s the downhill phase of execution.

Adaptation of Basecamp’s Hill Charts

Let’s explore.

1. Emergent Scope

The uphill phase is marred by uncertainty. We are gradually discovering and defining our scope as we climb. But since we can’t see past the summit, we can never quite see what lies beyond. We’re working with emergent scope and if anyone asks, we’ll find it hard to say when we might be done.

2. Time to Clarity

The sooner we crest the hill the better. How soon depends on the work to be done. Whereas novel work requires a longer uphill phase, routine work requires almost none. It follows that our Time to Clarity falls with experience and increases with complexity.

3. Proximal Development

Routine work is easy but boring. Novel work is difficult but interesting. We can’t work at either extreme for long without paying some sort of price. The sweet spot is somewhere in between. Routine enough to be sustainable, novel enough to remain in the zone of proximal development.

Balance is key.

When planning a new project, always consider where on the routine-novel work continuum you’ll be operating. What’s your likely Time to Clarity? What does that mean in terms of risk management on the one hand, and team learning and growth on the other?

That’s all for this week.
Until next time: Make it matter.


PS. ShapeUp is free to read online. Read chapter 13 for more information about Hill Charts. For a summary and key takeaways from the book as a whole, see How Basecamp Works: Shaping, Betting, and Building (WM #145).

Did you know? WorkMatters is a weekly newsletter that explores the emerging world of business ecosystems and self-organization. New issues drop Fridays at 10 AM ICT and subscription is free.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store