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How to manage projects: using Timebox and Sprints

3 min, 44 sec read
10:30 AM | 1 May 2015
by Lars Bjornbakk
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This is the second part of a series looking at managing your time and projects. Read part one: How to manage projects: an overview.

When starting your project, it is a good idea to have a look at the practises of Agile Project Management. Chances are that you’re unknowingly using parts of the Agile approach in your work; but becoming aware of this way of working might substantially improve your efficiency even more.

In this post I will delve further into the techniques behind agile project management by looking at Timeboxes and Sprints.

The agile philosophy

A core part of Agile is that you accept that details will be emerging throughout the project. You start off the project with a high-level plan; a solid foundation stating what you expect from the project. This is where ‘enough design upfront’ comes in to help you start the project and prevent overthinking.

One of the fundamental principles of Agile is to develop incrementally and iteratively. This means that you are creating early drafts, prototypes or versions. This will be refined later, either throughout the project or in the next project; depending on how much time you have available. This pushes the idea of ‘enough design upfront’; meaning that starting early to prototype, find issues and iteratively refine it until you have a product that does the trick.

Timeboxes

Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM) method of Agile project management provides a tool called Timebox. A Timebox starts with a kick-off, and ends with a close-out and has three main stages.

  • Investigation
  • Refinement
  • Consolidation

The kick-off is a short short session where you make sure that there is a common understanding of what work is going to be completed.

The ‘investigation’ stage is the first iteration. This stage should be about 10-20% of the full time of the Timebox. During this stage you will look into the full detail of what that Timebox should deliver.

The next stage is ‘refinement’; this is where you prototype, test and develop your solution. This is the main part of your Timebox, and should take about 60-80% of the time you have available. In this iteration it can be a great advantage to prioritise your work based on the MoSCoW-rule.

The last iteration stage is the ’consolidation’. This is where you tie together any loose ends there might be. You should devote 10-20% of the time on this part.

Lastly you have the close-out stage; this is where you control and agree that every thing produced during the Timebox meets an acceptable standard.

Sprints

Scrum uses the term Sprint instead of Timebox. It is very similar, consisting of:

  • Sprint planning: discovering what should be done in the iteration
  • Daily scrum: plan the day-to-day details
  • Development work: getting shit done
  • Sprint review: where you check the result of the work is in line with the sprint plan
  • Sprint retrospect: looking for ways to improve

The daily scrum is particular interesting for ensuring progress; this is a 15-minute long meeting where the team members get together and make a plan for the work to be done the next 24 hours. You often begin by stating what has been done since the last daily scrum, and plan what should be done during the next 24 hours. This is also a time for raising any issues that you think the team should be aware of related to the project.

Daily scrums can often be called daily stand-ups; as this meeting is often done while standing up - to prevent people to get too comfortable and thereby wasting time.

I have often found this way of working to be very good. It tends to prevent us from over planning our work, and lets us do more work in less time.

Planning to use 10% of the time on creating a solid foundation, for so to start working and prototyping early, using about 70% of the time on developing, and then allowing about 20% of the time to be spent on tying it all together; making sure you have a working and presentable result, have often proven to be a good way of approaching work for me.

This obviously depends very much on the task at hand, but most of the time it tends to be true; starting to prototype early, and use that to build on is often give you great results.

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