Scrum Teams Are Always Ready for a Round of Time-boxing

January 18, 2016

American football teams trailing late in games often rely on a clock-management strategy known as the two-minute drill. They run hurry-up, no-huddle offenses and execute plays that involve running out of bounds (thereby stopping the clock) whenever possible. While working the ball downfield, time can become more formidable than the opposing defense.

Like the scenario above, Scrum involves teams that seek to meet a goal while battling the constraint of time. But instead of scoring touchdowns the team is creating deliverables, and instead of the two-minute drill it uses a concept called “Time-boxing.”

Time-boxing proposes fixing a certain amount of time for each process and activity in a Scrum project. This ensures that Scrum Team members do not take up too much or too little work for a particular period of time and do not expend their time and energy on work for which they have little clarity. Advantages include an efficient development process, less overhead and high velocity for teams.

Time-boxing is a critical practice in Scrum and should be applied with care. Arbitrary Time-boxing can lead to de-motivation of the team and may have the consequence of creating an apprehensive environment, so it should be used appropriately. Time-boxing can be used in many Scrum processes. Let’s take a look at some examples.

Sprint: A Sprint is a Time-boxed iteration of one to six weeks during which the Scrum Master guides, facilitates and shields the Scrum Team from both internal and external impediments during the Create Deliverables process. During this time, the team works to convert the requirements in the Prioritized Product Backlog into shippable product functionalities.

Daily Standup Meeting: The Daily Standup Meeting is a short daily meeting, Time-boxed to 15 minutes. The team members get together to report the progress of the project by answering the following three questions: What did I complete yesterday? What will I complete today? What impediments or obstacles (if any) am I currently facing?

Sprint Planning Meeting: This meeting is conducted prior to the Sprint as part of the Create Sprint Backlog process. It is Time-boxed to eight hours for a one-month Sprint. The Sprint Planning Meeting is divided into two parts: Objective Definition (the Scrum Team and Product Owner define the Sprint goal) and Task Estimation (the Scrum Team decides how to fulfill the Sprint goal).

Sprint Review Meeting: The Sprint Review Meeting is Time-boxed to four hours for a one-month Sprint. During the Sprint Review Meeting conducted in the Demonstrate and Validate Sprint process, the Scrum Team presents the deliverables of the current Sprint to the Product Owner. The Product Owner reviews the product against the agreed Acceptance Criteria and either accepts or rejects the completed User Stories.

Retrospect Sprint Meeting: The Retrospect Sprint Meeting is Time-boxed to 4 hours for a one-month Sprint and conducted as part of the Retrospect Sprint process. During this meeting, the Scrum Team discusses what went well during the previous Sprint and what did not go well, the goal being to learn and make improvements in the Sprints to follow.

Sports teams and Scrum Teams alike benefit from a healthy respect for the clock. When working in a Sprint, it is important for Scrum Team members to focus on velocity as much as quality. When this is achieved, add one to the win column.


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