Time-boxing is the practice of using a fixed time period for getting work done. This means that we commit to completing at a certain time, typically with a certain amount of effort (people and resources). We commit to getting as much work done as possible within this time frame. The amount of time allocated is the “time-box.” In scrum, this is called a sprint. Elsewhere in the agile world, it is called an iteration.
There are many ways to achieve flow within a time-box. It requires a focus on:
- Delivering value quickly
- Finishing what you are working on
Value delivery means different things at different levels.
- At the program level, it should mean realizing value to the customers (internal or external).
- At the team level, teams should be focused on what it takes to deliver value. Probably, they cannot realize value to the customers on their own. They will depend on other teams or on shared services such as business intelligence or ops. So, the team should focus on building the right thing right, finishing stories and features quickly, and getting feedback as quickly as possible.
Time-Boxing does not Eliminate the Need for Flow
While the intention of the time-box is to give an end date by which things are done, we still aim to build things in small increments within the time-box. In other words, there should still be a focus on finishing stories in the sprint and MBIs in the program increment.
Flow is the guiding principle of all agile methods. Of course, XP is built around facilitating flow through paired programming, available customers, and test-first. Kanban says, “flow when you can, pull when you must.”
When flow is not attended to, challenges arise. Scrum can become a mini-waterfall in its time-box. SAFe® can become a three-month build-and-deliver process.