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4 Strategic Steps to Optimize the Value of the Timebox

23 August 2013

The timebox is an Agile concept. This article will help explain it.
Life is a series of timeboxes. The timebox is not time. The timebox is an objective mapping to a time frame. It's not about productivity. It's about living purposefully. The value of the timebox is the value of life. Strategically, there are four steps to optimize value of the timebox.
  1. Put down noises. Put down the perfectionist mind-set. Put down ineffective effort against chaos. Put down anxiety. Put down wrong expectations. A perfectionist mind-set, anxiety, wrong expectations, and effort against chaos don't generate value. My suggested tips are:
    • It can be hard to distinguish useful information from the trash. But we have to be decisive.
    • Keep an open mind and a beginner's mind. Recognize and embrace change.
    • Incorporate these ideas with the three other steps below. Let your objectives interact with the world. Keep thinking and responding while doing. Reserve a buffer for interruptions and change.
  2. Plan objectives. The recommended time distribution on planning, doing, and reviewing is 20:70:10. These numbers just come from experience and are not exact. The planning refers to the effort to understand an objective -- what the objective is, why it is important, what its value and costs are, and who/when/where to do it. The planning is pretty much the five W's. The doing is pretty much the one H -- how to do it. The reviewing is the evaluation of whether the value is implemented and how to do better next time. The planning also includes strategies to handle uncertainty and complexity. The planning effort is distributed along the span of the project (or life): yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily. The steps of planning the objectives are:
    • Create top-level objectives or lifetime objectives. These objectives are normally not defined quantitatively. They can be in the format of a category with its core values and principles. For example, professionalism (value) in work (category), family (category) first (value), and better quality (value) of life (category).
    • Create yearly sub-objectives. For each top objective or lifetime objective, create a sub-objective for the current year. For example, develop a new skill, plan a family vacation, or buy a new car.
    • Create quarterly/monthly/weekly/daily serving objectives. If we look at daily work and life, it contains lots of trivial items. We may lose meaning. Serving objectives are those that support a top object or sub-objective. They help us find meaning again. The quarterly plan is rough -- just a backlog that certain activities will happen in that quarter. The monthly plan is similar. The difference between a plan and no plan is that you'll have a systematic way to manage what you do, and then you'll have a better chance to achieve your objectives. For the weekly plan, it's more detailed. But will an activity happen on Wednesday or Thursday? You can decide that on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. For a daily plan, it needs to be solid that it has a high chance of being completed. The daily serving objective is always an activity with a purpose to serve a higher objective.
  3. Map objectives to the timebox. In the planning step, an objective is already mapped to a timebox. In a timebox, we have limited investment and time, a clear goal/objective/scope/meaning, managed complexity and ability, and a certain level of certainty. What we need to do is focus on time (start/end), be result oriented, be decisive and determined, and inspect and adapt. One tip:
    • Time is not linear. One working day is not eight hours. Sometimes it can be more and sometimes it can be less. With a purpose in mind, this can be balanced automatically.
  4. Build a buffer for interruptions and change. The intention of the timebox is to mark out a time period during which people can work with focus. But the world is always changing. We need to add in some time for interruptions and change.
    • Sometimes we can handle the change or interruption immediately, and the objective of the current timebox can still be achieved.
    • Sometimes we can put the interruption or change into the next timebox.
    • Sometimes we can put them into the backlog of the higher-level plan and objectives.
    • How to handle interruptions and change is a balance. The test of the balance is how the change or interruption contributes to our objectives.
Steps 1 and step 2 are about knowing -- living purposefully. Step 3 and Step 4 are about doing -- living effectively. The four-step strategy is a practice, not a theory. Only if you do all of these steps do you have the unity of knowing and doing.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

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Julien Mazloum, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 10/12/2013 12:51:34 AM
Good point Glen.
I like the idea of having objectives attached to timebox and to start by the overall purpose (product goal for instance) and make sure every sprint is a step towards that goal. Let's not forget the origins of Scrum in the new new product development game and that the initial idea was a cross-functional team doing a project with a clear business goal within a timebox with the least constraints possible.
This is a very important essence of Scrum.
However, I am not very fond of breaking down objectives into smaller ones at the year, quarter and sprint levels because, it smells over-planning to me. Relating one timebox to the overall goal is already very good I think. Otherwise, we may take the risk of loosing agility there.

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