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Timebox in Scrum & Agile Management

Instructor: CaSandra Minichiello

CaSandra has a bachelor's degree in Computer Information Systems and has taught Agile along with Scrum and Kanban for over 10 years.

Look! It's a bird! No, it's a plane! No, it's a timebox! Ever hear this word and wonder what it meant? Explore this lesson, and you will learn about timeboxing, an important, valuable practice of Agile.

Definition of Timebox

Timebox - it sounds like something extraordinary, doesn't it? If you were reading a science fiction novel, maybe this would be another name for a Fountain of Youth? It's nothing super extraordinary, but it is an important, valuable rule in Agile software development practice. Agile development focuses on breaking complex requirements into smaller tasks or activities that can be completed over a short length of time. This is also known as iterative software development.

While effective in many different Agile methods, the concept of timeboxing can be applied to any type of activity. In fact, you have already experienced many time boxed activities in your life, but weren't aware of the formal term.

A timebox is similar to putting time in a box, if this were even possible! A timebox is a time limit that is placed around an activity or task. In Agile practices, there is a timebox or time limit on every activity and one of main reasons is that in Agile practices, time and quality are fixed variables. Scope is not fixed, which is in contrast to traditional project management methodologies where time and scope are usually fixed.

Establishing the duration of the timebox is determined prior to the activity, during planning, developing or estimating. Once the duration of time ends, so does the activity.

Effective timeboxes are ones that are limited to a short duration or length of time, but long enough to complete the activity within a reasonable time frame. Once a reasonable timebox is determined, it should remain consistent. Timeboxing is a tool that can be applied to any type of activity and is a good first step if you want to incorporate Agile practices.

Examples of Timeboxes

Does this term still sound odd? Here are some examples of timeboxes you have probably already participated in.

Pulse Check

This activity requires only 30 seconds of time therefore it is timeboxed to 30 seconds. The doctor or nurse places their fingers on your wrist, starts their stop watch and begins to count the number of beats of your heart. After 30 seconds they stop counting.

Timed Test

Many of us have taken a timed test and most of us don't like them! Timed tests can be any where from an hour to longer, but there never seems to be enough time. While deep in thought on trying to solve a solution, you are interrupted by a voice that says, 'Pencils down, times up!' Not a fun timebox!

Vacation

A vacation is a great example of a timeboxed activity and much more fun than taking a timed test. Whether a week or more, you know how long you are on vacation. While you may not exactly have all your activities planned yet, you know what date you leave and which date you return. The duration is fixed unless you decide to spend a few more days in Aruba.

Examples of Agile Planning Timeboxes

There are many different frameworks that fall under the Agile methodology and most of them timebox at least one activity.

The following are some examples as they apply in Scrum:

Daily Stand-Up Ceremony

A daily stand-up ceremony is a Scrum practice where a Scrum Team stands-up, as the name implies, in a circle and answers three basic questions about their daily work. The meeting is timeboxed to 15 minutes.

A Sprint or Iteration

Also a Scrum framework timebox, a sprint, sometimes referred to as an iteration, is timeboxed to usually two weeks, but can vary depending on the team. A sprint is the time cycle when the product is designed, coded and tested and potentially shipped or delivered. Development begins on the first day of the Sprint and ends on the last day and hopefully all of the work has been completed. If not, the unfinished work is re-prioritized for a future sprint.

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