Timebox to Make Painful Tasks Bearable

A team I’m working with has come a long way in cutting through the crap of the Daily Scrum.  Your time is valuable don’t fill it with empty words.  During our most recent retrospective, two comments, among others, came up:

  1. Daily Scrums are faster and more direct. (Good)
  2. We are bad at gardening the backlog regularly. (Bad)

Timeboxes are a tool you can use to force yourself to cut through the noise and get down to business.  We decided to use the existing Daily Scrum timebox to make sure we continue to get better at Daily Scrum and get better at gardening our backlog.

Most days our Scrum takes only 5 minutes, but we have 15 scheduled.  As a resolution to the poor gardening habits, we’ve committed to spend 5 minutes gardening our backlog every day after our Scrum.  We size new Product Backlog Items, breaking others down, confirm the size of the highest priority items that may come up next sprint.  Sometimes we only get through 1 PBI other days 3 or 4, but slowly we are building the muscle memory that makes this experience natural and painless.

Keys to a Success Timebox

Make time remaining obvious  Use an egg timer, get an app for your smartphone, or find someone to hover over you and tell you you’re getting close.  Whatever you do make sure people know the team has 30 seconds and they should stop wasting time.

Don’t make exceptions  “Just one more” and “One last thing” are the slippery slope that leads to “I’m not coming” and “This sucks”

Speak Up  If someone is monopolizing the timebox remind them of the time remaining or ask them a pointed question.  Get things back on track quickly.

Make a decision  There should be some sort of concrete decision that comes out of the timebox.  It might be to take things offline, but don’t make it a habit to decide to have another meeting.  That’s a copout.