Time Management and Agile


Time Management and Agile


A while back, I received a Scrum Alliance newsletter announcing that at Global Scrum Gathering Bengaluru 2016, the keynote speaker, Kiran Bedi, would be speaking on the topic of time management.

I’ve been interested in time management since the early 90s, way before the Agile Manifesto was penned, so I thought it a little unusual that this rather ageless topic would be chosen for a Scrum gathering, but then I realized that many agile practices do, in fact, have commonality with techniques taught in time management.

Prioritization

I’ll never forget a lesson I learned from my first time management class. The instructor asked the class, “If someone asked you to pick up a package that was an hour out of your way on the way to work, what would you say?”

Most students agreed that they would say something to the effect of being too busy. Then she asked, “What if I told you that there was a million dollars in the package that you’d get to keep?”

Of course, you’d drop anything else you were doing and make it a priority to get that package. If it meant being late to work, so be it. The worst that would happen would be you’d get fired, and with a million dollars, you just may decide to take the whole day off!

The instructor reminded us that when we use the phrase “I’m too busy,” what we’re really saying is “That’s not a priority for me.”

Next, we went through the exercise of figuring out our priorities--our big life priorities, yearly priorities, monthly and so on. Now that I’m familiar with Scrum, I realize we were creating our life’s backlog.

With software, we’re looking at a product and requirements on a backlog, and we need to continue to prioritize them and ensure they are aligning with our top priorities or our vision. As we prioritize, we weigh the value to the risks or consequences if those things didn’t get done, just like we do when we make any decision.

Time-boxing

Another Scrum concept that can fall into the time-management category is that of time-boxing. Scrum is big into time-boxing meetings, such as the 15-minute stand-up meeting, and, of course, time-boxing the iteration itself.

Though some people find time-boxing frustrating because of the sense of pressure it can create, it can also help in creating discipline in completing tasks. The other big advantage to time-boxing is that it provides a mandatory stopping point so that feedback can be gathered. Many activities could go on indefinitely without being time-boxed.

Perfectionism will prevent many people from stopping and getting feedback. Think about the author who never is done with that novel, or the projects that get started, but never finished. Creating a time-box helps you focus, make progress, collect feedback and improve.

Flow

One more concept that was adopted from lean methodologies and is commonly referred to in agile circles, as well as time management literature, is flow, or elimination of waste.

Basically, I think of flow as when your mind is totally focused on what you’re working on. You’re in “the zone.” Things like multitasking are discouraged because there is waste associated with task-switching.

One of the Scrum Master’s responsibilities is to remove obstacles for the development team so they are able to focus and not be distracted by unnecessary interruptions.  

A few methods I’ve seen used effectively to stay focused are:

1. The Pomodoro Technique – a technique where you set a timer and stay focused during that time frame.

2. Declare a “No Meeting” policy for your group on certain days or periods. This might be Wednesday afternoons, for example.  

3. Have a visual cue to others (such as putting on headphones) that communicates that this is a time that you shouldn’t be interrupted.

In this day and age when we are constantly multitasking, checking smartphones and email, it can be tough to stay focused and productive. There are a variety of apps and techniques dedicated to helping people become more productive and better manage their time.

What are your favorites?



 

Yvette Francino has more than 30 years in the software development industry, and is an independent consultant, experienced agile leader, coach, author and trainer in various methodologies including SAFe, Scrum, Kanban and large-scale custom methodologies.

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