Agile is learning. Agile is both about being and doing. Agile is hard. How do we become more Agile? Scrum is a powerful framework for enabling Agile. What is a simple element that can help move a team into a rhythm of continuous learning?
Don’t Worry, This Element Can Help
There are many practices and techniques in Agile frameworks. The most common element of Scrum (the most well-known Agile framework) is its ceremonies. These ceremonies are meant to create the heartbeat of the Sprint. What is a profound and simple element that can enable these ceremonies?
Time-boxing is that element. There are four (4) official ceremonies and one (1) unofficial ceremony that occur in Scrum. These include Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective, and the unofficial ceremony is Backlog Grooming. The first four official ceremonies are all time-boxed, and the additional one is often time-boxed. Even the team’s Sprint is time-boxed!
For example, The Scrum Guide states that the “Sprint Planning is time-boxed to a maximum of eight hours for a one-month Sprint”. So this means that if a Scrum team is following a two-week Sprint then the maximum length for Sprint Planning is four hours. Now this may seem long or unnecessary. However, it does help.
Time-boxing Helps with Focus
A big reason for time-boxing is to constrain the ceremony so that it brings focus to achieve a specific goal. The Daily Scrum (aka the daily standup) ceremony’s purpose is to bring unity to the team each day and to make concrete plans. While participating in the Daily Scrum, we often uncover opportunities for the pairing of two individuals to accomplish a task together (an Extreme Programming technique), new impediments to achieving the Sprint Goal, and plenty of learning. The Daily Scrum is time-boxed to no more than 15 minutes. This may seem unrealistic, but it is easy to achieve if the team maintains focus on the purpose of the ceremony. I have seen many teams achieve the time constraint within their first week.
Time-boxing is Great for Continuous Improvement
Instead of allowing the team to use many hours or most of a day to achieve a goal, it ensures that the team continues to find ways to get better within the time-box. When teams focus on achieving the goal of each ceremony within the time-box it ensures that the team becomes more effective and more efficient. This has the potential to lead to an environment of continuous learning. The Sprint Review ceremony is has specific goal to show tangible and valuable product (software or otherwise) to those that will use it. Through the time-box of 1 hour per week of Sprint, this key inspect and adapt activity helps the team to become more effective in how they present the review and how they get feedback from stakeholders. As the team goes through many of these Sprint Reviews, it learns how to adjust the approach, increase value-add tasks, and focus on delivering the highest value items first. And this constant cycle of inspecting and adapting helps to team to adopt a continuous improvement model. Most Scrum Masters embrace time-boxing as an ally to help teams become more effective.
So how could your team enhance its Agility through the use of time-boxing?
I look forward to reading your insights, stories, and challenges as we continue on the journey called Agile. Have a great day!
Thanks and enjoy your journey with Agile values and Agile frameworks!
Paul J. Heidema