Timeboxing Scrum Events

Setting timebox is a time management technique where we cap the maximum time allocated for an event or task. Timeboxing is an integral part of the scrum framework where a maximum allowed time is set for each scrum event. Scrum framework consists of four main events ( Sprint planning,Daily scrum , Sprint review and Sprint retrospective) and all these events exist within a container event called Sprint. There is a prescribed time limit or timeboxe for each of these events within which these events should end. Having a timebox for an event does not mean that the event should take exactly the same time as the timebox. The event can end before the prescribed timebox period but it should never take more time than the prescribed time. One exception here is the Sprint itself, where the exact timebox period is maintained. The sprint is neither shortened under the timebox period nor extended beyond it. It is the primary responsibility of the Scrum master to ensure that the scrum events are conducted within the prescribed timebox.

 Let’s see timeboxing sprint event in detail and tips to ensure how the timebox can be maintained.

Sprint

Sprint is the container event within which all other scrum events like sprint planning, daily scrum,Sprint review,Sprint retrospective and the development work are conducted. The maximum duration prescribed for a sprint is one month or four weeks. However the scrum team can choose a smaller sprint period like one or two weeks. Once the team decides to adopt a specific sprint period, it is kept constant throughout the course of the project. It is not a good practice to frequently change the duration of the sprint. Maintaining consistent duration of the sprint helps the team to develop a rhythm of delivery. Advantage of maintaining the same length for each sprint is similar to the advantage of maintaining the same height for steps in a staircase. Think of climbing a staircase where height of steps are different, it will be really hard to build a rhythm and climb fast.

Timebox of the events within the sprint depends on the length or duration of the sprint itself

Can I end the sprint early?

Unlike other Scrum events we don’t end the sprint early. All the sprint have exactly the same length, not more, not less. Here the obvious question is , what if all the sprint backlog items are completed early? Should we close the sprint early and start the new sprint? The answer is No. However in rare situations the product owner can cancel a sprint if the sprint goal is no longer valid.

 Following are some ways the team can make use of the spare time if the planned work is completed early :

  • Pull in more backlog item from product backlog and work on it
  • Work on technical debts if any
  • Work on refining the product backlog for future sprints
  • Work on increasing the coverage of automated testing

Sprint Planning

Sprint planning is the first event in a sprint and the timebox for this event for a one month sprint is eight hours. However the timebox will reduce proportionally for three, two or one week sprints. So the Sprint Planning timebox for different period sprint will be as follows 

Timebox for Sprint Planning

Sprint LengthTimebox in Hours
One month or 4 week sprint 8 hours
Three week sprint 6 hours
Two week sprint 4 hours
One week sprint 2 hours

The timebox mentioned above is the maximum duration allowed for sprint planning and the scrum master should ensure that it is maintained.

Tips to ensure sprint planning meeting is completed within the timebox

Following are some tips that scrum master can follow to effectively complete the sprint planning meeting way under the timebox:

  1. Ensure that the product backlog items are properly refined and only mature product backlog items are taken up in the sprint planning. This means that the team must discuss the backlog items and split bigger chunks of backlog items to smaller more manageable ones.
  2. Maturity of product backlog items can be ensured by having a predefined Definition Of Ready (DOR) for the backlog items. Backlog items meeting the definition of ready should only be considered mature enough for sprint planning.
  3. Product backlog items taken up in the sprint planning meeting should be estimated in advance using any relative estimation technique like story points or t-shirt sizing. The task of estimating the product backlog should not be part of the sprint planning activities.
  4. Scrum master should ensure that the meeting starts on time and the discussions do not go offtopic.
  5. Scrum Master should ensure that all team members should have access to the product backlog in advance and they clearly understands the refined backlog items

Daily Scrum

Daily scrum or daily standup meeting is a meeting the development team conducts every working day to ensure that the entire team is aware of each other’s progress and whether anybody is facing any issue. Timebox for the daily scrum is 15 minutes irrespective of the duration of the sprint. So the Daily Scrum timebox for various sprint duration will be:

TIMEBOX FOR Daily Scrum

Sprint LengthTimebox in Hours
One month or 4 week sprint 15 Minutes
Three week sprint 15 Minutes
Two week sprint 15 Minutes
One week sprint 15 Minutes

The team can end the meeting as soon as everybody is done with thir part even if the entire 15 minutes is not utilized . A mature team often ends the daily standup under 10 minutes.

Tips to ensure Daily scrum is completed within 15 minutes

Following are some guidelines to ensure the daily scrum doesn’t go beyond 15 minutes:

  1. The development team should not be more than 9 members. Recommended team size is between 3 and 9 members. As the number of members in the team increases the communication between team members becomes more complex and the meetings will take longer.
  2. Each team member should stick to the topic of updating last day’s progress, plan for the day and impediments if any. No other topics should be discussed.
  3. If discussions on a topic are getting extended it should be taken offline in separate meetings after the daily scrum.
  4. Only the development team members should be active participants of the meeting,others if attending, should be there as observers and should not intervene unless required by the development team members

Sprint Review

Sprint review comes by the end of a sprint where the product increment, developed during the sprint is presented to the stakeholders for their feedback. In a one month long sprint this event is timeboxed to 4 hours. This timebox varies in proportion to the duration of the sprint. Following are the timeboxes for sprint review meeting based on the duration of sprint:

TIMEBOX FOR SPRINT Review

Sprint LengthTimebox in Hours
One month or 4 week sprint 4 hours
Three week sprint 3 hours
Two week sprint 2 hours
One week sprint 1 hour

Tips to ensure that the Sprint Review is completed within the timebox

Following are some tips:

  1. Ensure that the stakeholders attending the meeting are informed in advance and understand the agenda. It will enable them to do their homework and come prepared for the meeting
  2. Main target audience of this meeting is stakeholders . Questions from stakeholders who understand the system and the end users should be encouraged and questions from unrelated parties focused on understanding the systems can be taken offline.
  3. Focus of the discussions should always be the ‘what’ part of the feature and not the ‘how’ part. 
  4. Scrum master should facilitate the meeting ensuring that discussions stick to the agenda and do not go offtopic

Sprint Retrospective

Sprint retrospective is the last event in a sprint where the team meets to reflect on the process followed in the sprint and sees how that can be improved to gain efficiency. Timebox for Sprint retrospective in case of one month sprint is 3 hours. Following are the timeboxes for sprint retrospective meeting depending on the duration of sprint:

TIMEBOX FOR SPRINT Retrospective

Sprint LengthTimebox in Hours
One month or 4 week sprint 3 hours
Three week sprint 2 hours 15 minutes
Two week sprint 1 hour 30 minutes
One week sprint 45 minutes

Tips to ensure that the Sprint Retrospective is completed within the timebox

Following are some tips scrum master can use to ensure that the meeting completes within the timebox:

  1. Prepare the team for the retro meeting in advance. The scrum master can advise the team a day or two ago to think about things that went well or could be improved. 
  2. Help the team to be more constructive in discussions instead of pointing fingers and indulge in arguments.
  3. Ensuring that the discussions do not go offtopic

Backlog Refinement

Though Backlog refinement is not identified as an event in scrum framework, it is an essential process in scrum. The scrum guide has recommended the development team to spend 10% of their time in a sprint to refine backlogs for the coming sprints. The Refinement process can be conducted in a single meeting, multiple meetings, offline collaboration through JIRA, Chats, mails or other collaboration tools , or it may be a combination of these. Based on the 10% rule following are the maximum allocated time for backlog refinement per team member:

TIMEBOX FOR Product Backlog Refinement

Sprint LengthTimebox in Hours
One month or 4 week sprint 16 hours
Three week sprint 12 hours
Two week sprint 8 hours
One week sprint 4 hours

Frequently Asked questions

Following are some questions frequently asked with respect to timeboxing and it’s answers:

Can I end the timeboxed event earlier than the time prescribed?

Yes, it is not necessary to consume the entire timebox duration. The event can end as soon as it’s objectives are achieved. Timebox is just the upper limit and the actual time can be anything under or equal to it. An exception is Sprint itself as discussed in the ‘Sprint’ Section of this article

As a scrum master what should I do if the time prescribed by the timebox for an event is about to lapse and the meeting is not ending? 

It is recommended not to extend a meeting beyond its timebox. This may mean having to do hard stops in meetings. However these hard stops if any have to be discussed in the scrum’s retrospective meetings and process improvements to avoid such hard stops should be adopted.

At what point does a sprint end and the next sprint starts?

A sprint ends as soon as the sprint Retrospective of the sprint ends and the next sprint starts soon after that. There is no time gap between two sprints. For example, if the sprint ends on Fridays at 6:00 PM with the Retrospective meeting and Sprint planning of the next sprint planned on Mondays 9:00 am. The new sprint starts on Fridays itself as soon as the Retrospective meeting ends and not on Mondays with the Sprint planning meeting.

What is the best time for Daily Scrums?

It is best to conduct the daily scrum as first thing in the morning. For a 9:00 am to 6:00 pm shift, it it ideal to conduct the conduct Daily scrum is between 9:00 am and 9:30 am

Closing Note

Timeboxing is one of the core concepts of scrum that enable efficient use of time . Everyone remains focused and builds a rhythm while working as a team. It is also a mechanisms to place a full stop, striking a balance between planning and execution.