Time box: Get-Stuff-Done Tool for Risk Reduction, Focus, and Decision Making

This is part two of a three part series Time box: A Holistic View on Sprints and Iterations

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. ~ Parkinson’s Law, Cyril Northcote Parkinson

On Risk Reduction

imageTeams talk some good game when they sell Agile to their organizational leaders: real software in a few weeks, higher quality, and, if they’re really good, risk reduction.  “See, if we build these features early,” they say, “and people don’t like it, we’ve saved you 13 months of wasted effort and costs.  How can you not love this stuff?”  Sign me up Johnny!

It’s true, if you build done software in 30 days or less, you do get the opportunity to inspect the output determining whether to stay the course or correct.  You can even begin taking on more creative, innovative, industry shaking adventures knowing they are limited to a few weeks or months.

Looking to become strategic and not just tactical with technology… this is your ticket.

But it’s not all roses. You must expect that some adventures will not end with a pot of real gold. Instead, our gold is measured in learning; new information which can be taken back and used to concoct the next ground shaking advance.  If you allow the fear of failure to drive your decisions you will grind to a halt.  Instead, create a system based on learning and encourage the free communication of that information as a value neutral asset.

On Focus

Tell me you didn’t see this coming.

Every team feels the pressure of a time box.  It’s natural and it can be used wisely.  It can also be abused.  Terribly, terribly abused.  I have good news though!  Corporate evolution is on the side of the wise.

Those who follow the Pomodoro Technique create short, focused 30 minute durations to accomplish activities.  25 minutes exist for actually working the task at hand and 5 are meant to provide the necessary, human break needed to maintain focus over extended periods.

Our Sprints must consciously reflect this same human capacity for focus in a creative environment like software development.  As outlined in our previous part of this series we can easily turn a space for focus and creativity into a pressure box of panic, frustration, and corner cutting.

Sausage stuffing is the two steps back to your previous step forward.

On Decision Making

imageTo support a team in delivering functioning, ship-quality software in 30 days or less, organizations must provide them with timely, informed decisions to questions and alternatives.  Authoritative and informed decisions which take into account the political and user environment are necessary within minutes and hours, not days or weeks.

Would you ever consider the impact of removing 10% of an existing project’s schedule?  In delaying a decision for steering committee or general approval by 1 day, a two week iteration is similarly delayed.  In the absence of responsive decision making and an open social environment for voicing questions and concerns, teams will make decisions and assumptions on their own.

In many of these cases, we may have the best people on the team to make those decisions!  Time boxes demand that our teams be composed of or have direct access to those skills necessary to make decisions quickly.  This includes domain experts such as lawyers, accountants, marketing, design, etc.  With “done” software in 30 days we cannot hide the impact of delayed decisions.

  • Tim Larson

    I like the photo – have you ever been slacklining?  It’s quite challenging…

    • http://twitter.com/cromwellryan Ryan Cromwell

      You mean walk on a rope? No.  I have enough trouble with flat ground. :)