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Timebox In Agile

by StarAgile

March 27, 2020
Category Agile and Scrum


It is essential to track the work done to produce results and keep it cost-effective. Also, when you assign any task to a naïve person, you need to tell them about what is expected from them. Apart from telling that you need to also tell how much time they can consume to complete the task. 

Let us take a typical scenario, you ask your child aged 10 to peel orange and he/she does it. Now, ask your child to do the same job and tell that it has to be completed within a stipulated time. Do you notice the difference in the activity? Yes, at both times he/she peels orange. But, when you have allotted the time, you might have noticed a sense of responsibility in them and a quick action as they had a timeline. 

The same is applicable to project development as well. It is always good to fix time and assign tasks rather than allowing to finish the work and monitoring the time. The former method has a lot of differences when compared to the latter. We shall now understand why timeboxing is required, what are its benefits and how to achieve the same from an agile project development perspective. 

What is it? 

Several events take place in an agile project and allocating time for each event is called timebox in Agile. How do you know what time to allocate? Who allocates time? To answer the first question, it is already in practice for many years now and each event has a defined timebox in agile. Therefore, allocation becomes easy and further the scrum master and the product owner discuss to decide on the duration based on the product backlog, the team capacity, bandwidth, and their experience. 

Examples 

Every task we do right from fitness activities, household chores, kid's education, everything is an example of timeboxing. When you start going to school you will know that each class will be for a defined duration of time, we call this a period. This is when first we started working with a fixed time. Yes, but we might not have called this timeboxing. 

However, when it comes to timebox in agile we are bound to work on each event within a timeframe and that is when we realize this very term. 

The table below shows the time allotted for each event in agile projects assuming that the sprint is a 1-week sprint. 

Events
Time hrs/week
Percentage
Sprint Planning
26
Standup meeting
1hr 15 mins
4
Development work
35
85
Review 
13
Retrospective
40 
2

From the above table, you can understand that every week we work for 40 hours and in that, time spent on meetings will consume 5 hours. Daily stand up meeting is a meeting conducted daily which is done for 15 mins in a day. Now, the team will get an idea that they have only 35 hours in hand to complete their task individually. 

It is now easy to manipulate the time for each event based on the sprint duration. Yes, sprint is the backbone of agile projects and based on the sprint duration the team can plan all their events to complete the task assigned during every iteration. 

Sprint duration, in general, every agile practitioner follows will vary from 2 to 4 weeks. Ideally speaking, 2 weeks sprint is universally followed and hence timeboxing becomes easy for even a new agile team. 

Benefits of timebox in Agile and Scrum

After understanding what is it, you will know how it is beneficial. But, instead of knowing the general benefits, we would want to throw some light on how it is specifically useful in the agile domain. 

1. Increases productivity 

We are aware that agile is an iterative process and hence it is highly dynamic. Therefore, keeping timeframe for each event will motivate the team and hence enhances productivity. The entire team works with focus thus accomplishing the business goal and making the customer feel satisfied. 

2. Prevents Feature creep 

Software projects face this problem often. It is an addition of features incrementally without being sure about the need. This will have a strong impact on the time, quality and cost of the project. Timeboxing will allow the team to work with their maximum potential to reach the goal. They will go with the time and hence will not add any features assuming it to add value. 

3. Seeds sense of responsibility 

The responsible behavior of not just the team but the SM and PO is also important. Timeboxing reminds the PO to prioritize product backlogs. It also makes the SM follow timelines during meetings. Scrum framework emphasizes daily stand up and thus sticking to that 15 minutes is important. Hence timebox will keep every stakeholder on toes to work towards the result.

However, one can think that timeboxing might lead to chasing time and diluting the quality. You must understand that these timelines are decided after so many trials and past experiences. Therefore, you must accept that these are real and doable deadlines. 

Tips to effectively implement timeboxing for Agile planning

At the first cut, it feels intimidating to see a huge list of tasks to be accomplished in the given time frame. But, there is no need to panic as we reiterate the fact that these timelines are realistic. All you need to do to handle is to follow the simple ways suggested below to use timeboxing and it will become a practice eventually.

  1. You must first allocate time to yourself for completing your task. This you can do based on your competency and experience. For instance, in a 2-week sprint, you will have 70 hours to complete your task. There is no micromanagement in this and you are free to take your time and divide the tasks. Start allocating time by breaking your work into modules based on your knowledge. 
  2. Start the timer and do not look at it until you finish the task. After completing check the timer to know if you have taken a longer time than allocated or vice versa. Based on this experience you can now get going with the remaining task. Remember, you may fail to stick on to time initially but slowly it will become a habit. 
  3. Soon after you check on the timing of your first task whether you complete or not on time, don’t think about it for your next task. Just take a break and start your next task with a fresh mind.
  4. Break the task into smaller chunks based on your competency to prevent getting demotivated. Always remember that your completion is important and no one will monitor you on your task.
  5. Finally, keep timeboxing in mind and work towards achieving the same by self reviewing your progress. 


Whether you are a developer, quality engineer, product in charge, irrespective of the role you play in agile projects, you must register for a CSM Certification to master the art of timeboxing.