I love timeboxing my work. Timeboxing–choosing a period of time in which to finish a specific task–helps me stay focused on just one thing at a time.
Imagine you’ve estimated you have a 20-hour task. But that’s just an estimate, and you’re not sure exactly how you’ll finish the task, because you can see some potential problems with the task. Or, you may have some interruptions as you proceed through the work. If you timebox your work into small chunks you can finish, say one-or two-hour chunks, you can see if you’re making progress or getting stuck.
A timebox is a specific amount of time in which the person or team will attempt to accomplish a specific chunk of work. I break my estimates into small timeboxes to help me accomplish work faster.
Even if I don’t know everything about a project, I can start something in a short timebox–even as short as five minutes long. That helps me get started and see what else I need to do. I use timeboxes to get started, to make small, incremental progress, and especially to finish tasks I dislike.
But the place where timeboxes really shine is when your project is composed of multisite teams trying to work together. That’s when short timeboxes can save your project.
One of the big problems with multisite projects is making sure everyone knows who needs which deliverables and when. But if you work in short timeboxes, everyone on the project can see which deliverables are needed now and who needs to provide them. Of course, you do need to make sure there’s some mechanism for communication, and that everyone expects something usable will be delivered
When I say short timeboxes, I mean one- or two-week timeboxes if the teams have many interdependent deliverables. I’ve managed projects where the teams had fewer interdependencies and four-week timeboxes worked. But the more interdependencies, the shorter you want the timebox to be.
Timeboxes work because they:
- Help people focus on their current work, ignoring future work, for now.
- Help people stay focused on their work for the timebox, pushing aside possible distractions.
- Help people make their progress transparent to the entire project team. Everyone can see whether or not each team is making progress. No one is just “working on something for X time.”
- Help people see if they are not making progress.
- Allow people who care see partially done work, allowing those people to tell the project team early, “You’re giving me what I asked for, but not what I need.”