Creating the Beat for the Team

This article describes the intention behind cadence and time-boxing in Scrum and Kanban.

Iterations or Cadence and Discipline

The heart of Scrum is the sprint.  However, a planned sprint is not the only way to achieve its value. However, if we want to abandon sprints, we must understand what value they provide and achieve that in some other manner.

The Value of a Sprint

A sprint provides a time-box within which to fit work. This “time-box” is from the time after planning to the time we set for the end of work. The sprint probably has another day for the demo and retrospection. Scrum’s time-boxing has some interesting side effects which are quite useful such as the following.

  • Stories must be small enough to fit into the time-box. Rather, they should be small enough to take no longer than a third to half of the time-box. We prefer even shorter.
  • A set time to see what’s been done and stop working whether done or not.
  • A reality check on if stories have been completed or just coded.
  • A deadline that keeps things a little bit urgent but not too urgent.
  • Provides visibility of the work going into the sprint and what is being accomplished
  • Provides the rate at which work is being accomplished (velocity)
  • Gives us a planning cycle
  • Creates focus on what is to be worked on
  • Provides discipline to the team


Cadence means to have a regular beat. In Scrum, sprints provide the regular beat. The start and end of a sprint provides timing for the following.

  • Ensuring the product backlog is ready for the sprint
  • When to do planning for the sprint
  • When to see what has been completed
  • When to demo the work of the sprint
  • When to do a retrospection

Scrum uses the sprint to set the cadence of the above actions.  Scrum’s structure provides a great degree of discipline for the teams. This is one reason Scrum is a good starting point for many teams wanting to become Agile.

Alternatives to a Sprint

Kanban’s flow model does not require a time-box. However, a cadence to do the above collaborations is useful. In either case the cadence provides for different teams to have a set time for collaboration. A flow model requires the addition of other practices in order to achieve what Scrum achieves with its sprint.  These include:

  • Can have independent cadences
  • Must bring discipline to each story since they make take longer than should without it
  • Use small batches / stories
  • Use visual controls throughout workflow
  • Measure velocity via cadence (just measure the amount of work that was completed between the cadence points)
  • Plan ahead if valuable
  • Take a value centric approach

Scrum without sprints is not kanban

We often hear teams saying they are doing Kanban when what they’ve really done is abandon sprints.  This is not Kanban. Kanban requires the items in the ‘Alternatives to sprints.’  It takes more disciplinen to do this, which is why starting with Scrum and then moving to Kanban can be a good thing for some teams.