Timeboxing, a key component of Scrum and Agile project management methodology, is quickly gaining in popularity over traditional to-do lists. Why? Because it eliminates some of the most common shortcomings of to-do lists and elevates the agility and visibility of current and completed tasks.
Timeboxing is the simple practice of allotting a fixed unit of time (or time box) for a particular activity or task. It keeps teams on track by clearly defining how much time is left to complete each stage of work and clearly displays progress to the entire team throughout the life of the task.
Traditional to-do lists can become bloated with items, overwhelming employees with so many objectives that they don’t know where to start. It’s human nature to start with the simplest of tasks and put off the most complex, so a to-do list can contribute to missed deadlines for mission-critical items that may require more time and effort.
Another problem with the traditional to-do list is that it rarely accounts for important objectives that fall outside of the day-to-day. Continuing education and team building, for example, are two crucial tasks that may not surface on a traditional list but must be accomplished for continued personal and team growth.
Lastly, to-do lists rarely promote accountability or report productivity or the progress of work. Even if a list is shared, progress is measured by two variables–complete or incomplete. Neither indicates how close the project is to completion and how much progress has been made.
Timeboxing has several major advantages over traditional lists and is a natural complement to Scrum project management and OKR (Objectives and Key Results) goal setting. The latter i.e the OKR goal-setting framework also encourages having a shorter duration for achievement of goals, from monthly to quarterly duration (except for company level goals). Adding the element of timeboxing to OKRs helps everyone involved stay on track and achieve their goals in a timely manner.
Here are a few results you can expect from ditching to-do lists in favor of timeboxing.
Manage the “big picture”
One of the fundamental advantages of timeboxing is the ability to see at a glance, where work falls on a calendar in relation to other tasks and objectives. It considers the amount of time needed to complete all steps for a particular work item and creates a realistic, visual deadline to ensure that work (or goal in case of the OKR methodology) is completed successfully and on time.
Tasks carry different weights when it comes to importance to the organization. Traditional to-do lists don’t reflect the prioritization or necessity of tasks, but timeboxing forces teams to prioritize each work item and complete the most meaningful tasks first. In case of setting goals using OKRs, tasks are replaced with Key Results and similarly only those KRs that are high on priority are chosen while the rest are carried forward or delegated. Too many tasks or KRs take the focus away from those that are more detrimental to the achievement of overall goals.
When teams see immediate results from completing business-critical tasks in a timely manner, employee engagement increases and the resulting sense of urgency and ownership snowballs into future projects. Compared to the unmanageable parade of line items on a to-do list, timeboxing creates a feeling of manageability to keep teams energized and focused on the right priorities.
By driving toward a known date, timeboxing accurately reflects progress against the scope of each step in the project. Many large projects may require multiple timeboxes and involvement from several teams to complete. The visual nature of timeboxing keeps teams focused on their respective tasks and aware of any potential delays or blockers that must be addressed. It is also an effective way to keep stakeholders and executive sponsors up to date on project status without the need to schedule an overabundance of review meetings.
Perfectionism is an easy trap to fall into. It’s natural to want work to be without flaw before anyone can review (and potentially criticize) it. Agile project management supports the idea of creating a viable solution and iterating on it as time goes by. As a part of Agile methodology, timeboxing forces project teams to complete work within an allotted amount of time, creating a good solution that may not be “perfect.” Unnecessary perfectionism does more harm than good. By driving toward a published, socialized deadline, teams are free to create a solution that sufficiently fills requirements and that can start making an impact on the business more quickly.
When teams have access to a calendared, visual snapshot of work, they have the ability to communicate and collaborate when questions and roadblocks arise. As new tasks are added, they can be prioritized against the projects already in the queue to ensure that deadlines continue to be met and a single employee or team isn’t overburdened. Make sure teams have the ability to share calendars and work schedules to optimize collaboration.
Timeboxing is a valuable tool for predicting work within sprints, but over time it can also train teams to better predict requirements and time allotment for future sprints. Predictability is a valuable skill for teams to become more efficient over time. Timeboxing provides the data needed to inform teams about their ability to deliver on commitments.
Record a history of completed work
One of the long-term benefits of timeboxing is the record of completed work it provides. It’s not only useful to support self-reviews during performance review cycles, but it is a valuable measuring stick for teams to prove their impact on company objectives. Timeboxing provides both a short-term and long-term view into each project and highlights areas of success and improvement.
Increase employee engagement
Employee engagement suffers when teams feel that the success of their work lies outside their control. Timeboxing alleviates interruptions to project workflow and empowers teams to say no to competing priorities. The result is the successful completion of more projects, which fosters a greater sense of purpose, control, and accomplishment.
While the benefits of timeboxing extend well past increased productivity, it can’t be argued that productivity spills into many organizational goals and the ability of teams to make a direct impact on business outcomes. As employees learn the discipline of working toward a charted time box for project completion, they naturally become more efficient and productive. Free your teams from the unsustainable avalanche of to-do lists. Timeboxing costs nothing to implement and has the potential to transform the way your organization approaches project management.