Flowing Within a Time-box

Time-boxing is the practice of using a fixed time period for getting work done. This means that we commit to completing at a certain time, typically with a certain amount of effort (people and resources). We commit to getting as much work done as possible within this time frame. The amount of time allocated is the “time-box.” In Scrum, this is called a sprint. Elsewhere in the Agile world, it is called an iteration.

Time-boxing does not eliminate the need for flow

While the intention of the time-box is to give an end date by which things are done, we still need to build things in small increments (be Agile) within the time-box. In other words, there should still be a focus on finishing stories in the sprint & MBIs in the program increment.

Flow is the guiding mantra of all Agile methods. When it is not attended to challenge arise. For example:

  • Scrum becomes a mini-waterfall in its time-box
  • SAFe becomes a three-month build and delivery process

Ironically, the mantra “flow when you can, pull when you must” tells us the even Kanban is about flow and not managing Work-in-Process (a method to facilitate flow).

It is significant to notice that XP is explicitly about flow. Its combination of paired programming, available customers, and test-first all facilitate flow.

How to apply flow within a time-box

There are many ways to achieve flow within a time-box with flow.  To accomplish this, you need to focus on:

Delivering value quickly requires a focus on finishing

Value delivery means different things at different levels. At the program level, it should mean realizing value to the customers (internal or external). At the team level, however, teams cannot usually realize value to the customers by themselves since they require other teams and or shared services such as business intelligence or ops. Nevertheless, the goal is still value delivery. Now, however, the value is ensuring you are building the right thing right. This means getting feedback as quickly as possible. This means finishing stories and features quickly. This implies, of course, not to do mini-waterfalls in the sprint.