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Timeboxes In Scrum

For a methodology that teaches us to avoid setting firm deadlines, there sure are a bunch of different time frames we need to use. The truth is, while there is no room for fixed deadlines in scrum and agile, we need to set time limits on activities to avoid getting off track.

Timeboxes in scrum differs from traditional product management timelines because it focuses on scope flexibility rather than time flexibility. Instead of working and extending deadlines as needed, timeboxes help teams to produce deliverables that build upon the last to iteratively create a new product.

By timeboxing activities, we can ensure teams stay focused on a specific task without the impending doom of a deadline. With that in mind, let’s dive deep into the world of timeboxes and how we use them for different scrum activities.

Table of contents

Why are timeboxes important in scrum?

Timeboxing is the practice of assigning a fixed, maximum unit of time for an activity. Time boxes are a common feature of many project management methodologies. They help to keep the team focused by defining a time frame for activities to be completed.

Timeboxes create urgency, encouraging teams to get to work immediately. This helps guide prioritization. Activities are assessed with a focus on what can be delivered within that limited time frame, resulting in critical features being developed early in the project life cycle. These prioritization benefits also help to keep projects efficient and cost-effective.

Using timeboxes in scrum helps create a development rhythm that keeps projects moving at a consistent pace. That rhythm also helps you gather metrics at regular intervals. You can then use these metrics to plan future projects with accurate benchmarks.

Timebox for a sprint

The timebox for a sprint is usually between 1 and 4 weeks, depending on how your team operates.

For sprints, the timebox defines how long the sprint will run. This helps drive performance and encourages teams to get to work instead of leaving their tasks until the last possible minute. By timeboxing sprints, teams are more aware of timelines and how the project progresses.

Timebox for the daily scrum

A meeting with five people

The timebox for the daily scrum (aka the daily stand-up) should be just 15 minutes per 24 hour period.

The daily scrum is a quick and simple planning meeting designed to keep everyone in the loop with how other team members are getting on. It ensures that team members are fully aligned with each other and on track to hit the sprint goal.

By giving this meeting a small timebox, teams know to keep their updates short and to the point to avoid the meeting running into productivity time.

Timebox for sprint planning meeting

The timebox for a sprint planning meeting is two hours for each week in a sprint. For teams using a four-week sprint, this would be an eight-hour timebox on the sprint planning meeting.

Timeboxing the sprint planning meeting helps to keep the timebox of the sprint itself in mind. Knowing that there’s only a limited amount of time to discuss items that need to be included in the sprint means that the team cannot schedule more work than is possible to achieve during the sprint.

It can help to set an agenda for sprint planning meetings. This ensures that everything that needs to be discussed can be fully explored within the sprint planning meeting timebox. An agenda for a timeboxed sprint planning meeting could look something like this:

  • Quickly recap the current sprint, closing off what was completed
  • Review and re-prioritize what wasn’t finished, re-estimating story points and the team capacity
  • Agree and finalize goals of the upcoming sprint
  • Discuss risks and confidence levels

Timebox for sprint reviews

The timebox for sprint reviews is four hours or less for one-month sprints.

During this timebox, teams will look at the work performed during the sprint. Deliverables are demonstrated and inspected to determine which features are finished and which need more work. We do this to identify the usability of the features built during the sprint.

Sprint reviews also serve as a chance to look at and adapt the product backlog based on any uncovered findings during the sprint. Any work removed from the sprint will also be placed back into the backlog during the sprint review.

Most importantly, the sprint review helps us identify what work is actually important to the product. By timeboxing this activity, teams save time and resources by quickly identifying the work’s importance, allowing us to ignore anything that doesn’t have value.

Timebox for sprint retrospectives

The timebox for sprint retrospectives is three hours or less for a one-month sprint. The general rule of thumb for sprint retrospective timeboxes is 45 minutes for each week the of the sprint. So for a two-week sprint, you only need a timebox of 90 minutes for your retrospective.

During the sprint retrospective timebox, teams will look over everything that happened during the sprint to identify what went well, what went wrong, and what can be improved for the next sprint.

By timeboxing our retrospectives, we can make sure that the meeting stays focused on ways to improve our processes going forward.

Deadlines are dead, timeboxes are the future

Using timeboxes and scrum allows you to be sure your teams are working to the best of their ability. This helps businesses to reduce time and resource wastage while still consistently producing high-quality products.

Timeboxes help teams stay aligned with the project goals, and EasyRetro makes it even easier. With EasyRetro, you can easily visualize how your team is performing and display timeboxes with plenty of context to keep your team running smoothly.

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