Timeboxing

Timeboxing - ToolsHero

This article explains the concept of Timeboxing in a practical way. After reading it, you will understand the basics of this powerful effectiveness and time management tool.

What is Timeboxing?

The Timeboxing method is the best way to increase productivity and split projects into fixed periods. This time management technique offers the opportunity to limit the amount of time one wants to spend on a certain activity in advance. The final goal is to define and limit the amount of time allotted for a specific activity. Timeboxing is the cure for preventing exceeding time limits. This technique ensures a timely delivery and offers a progressive insight by allotting maximum time units. These time units are also called ‘periods‘, ‘time boxes‘ or ‘iterations‘. Typical for timeboxing is that the entire project period is divided into multiple periods of a short duration. This creates mini projects that are all a part of the entire delivery. By evaluating at the end of a time box, it is possible to easily adjust the project.

Steps

Timeboxing bares a strong resemblance to the Pomodoro technique. It is important that different tasks remain within their own time boxes. The following steps help provide a clear overview:

Timeboxing steps - ToolsHero

Step 1

Evaluation of the amount of time that every sub-activity will take.

Step 2

Allot a set amount of time to every sub-activity; this is a time box.

Step 3

Include breaks in the schedule of the different time boxes.

Step 4

In the schedule of all time boxes together, also consider unforeseen circumstances, such as interruptions and unexpected visits.

Step 5

Get to work and use a timer to closely monitor the separate time boxes.

Step 6

Evaluate every time box; for the instances when a sub-activity was interrupted or did not fit in a time box, it shall need to be considered what the reason(s) was/were for this. This evaluation is important in order not to lose sight of the end goal. The progress of the entire project can be monitored through analysing.

Advantages

Using timeboxing has several advantages. Not only will deadlines be met, employees will also be able to focus better and to concentrate on their activities. It prevents procrastination because the time limits urge them to ignore distractions and prioritise their work. It even ensures that the perfectionist, who takes a long time to finish an activity, is ‘forced’ to complete their task within the time box. People tend to occupy themselves with multiple tasks at the same time. This usually means that they will not be able to complete everything in time. Timeboxing can especially help with this, because only a single activity will need to be completed per period. Moreover, Timeboxing is a way to measure the final productivity. This information and experience may then help in creating better priorities in busy periods.

Timeboxing example - ToolsHero

Deadlines

Timeboxing can be applied anywhere; at home, at work, during exercise. For example, parents can agree with their children that they can watch television for a specific number of minutes. During meetings, it can also offer a solution by providing clear start and end times. The items on the agenda can then be listed, so both the chair and the participants have a clear insight into how much time each item is allowed to take. The chair can use this to control the meeting and participants will know that they cannot linger too long on a certain topic.

Project management also gratefully uses Timeboxing. Projects are planned in a number of periods, each with their own goal, budget and deadline. By knowing the least amount of time necessary for completing a project in advance, the so-called ‘critical path’ becomes clear; the time period with the least amount of leeway. This does not only offer a clear time span; it also ensures the budget will not be exceeded. To meet deadlines, the dropping of less important activities may be considered, as well as the hiring of additional personnel during peak periods. In applying Timeboxing, the delivery date is set. However, this is not allowed to negatively affect the quality. Focus on the most important requirements is important, the MoSCoW method may be of help in this; must have, should have, could have, would have.

Software development

Timeboxing is also often used in software development. For example, in the eighties of the previous century, the productivity at the American chemical company DuPont increased when they started to use Timeboxing. However, American software developer and project manager Steve C. McConnel indicates that not every product is equally suitable for Timeboxing. In his opinion, it can only be used with the agreement of the customer. They decide what does and does not have to be done. Timeboxing is a part of important software development methods, such as the Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM), lean software development, Rapid Application Development (RAD), Agile and Scrum. Scrum exclusively works with sprints; these are time boxes of one month or less, in which the scrum team delivers sprint goals. Scrum uses Timeboxing as a tool to concretely define open or ambiguous tasks.

It’s Your Turn

What do you think? What are your experiences with Timeboxing? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more suggestions? What are your success factors for creating a productive planning?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

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More information

  1. Jalote, P., Palit, A., Kurien, P., & Peethamber, V. T. (2004). Timeboxing: a process model for iterative software development. Journal of Systems and Software, 70(1-2), 117-127.
  2. Miranda, E. (2011). Time boxing planning: Buffered Moscow rules. ACM SIGSOFT Software Engineering Notes, 36(6), 1-5.
  3. Ovesen, N., Eriksen, K., & Tollestrup, C. (2011). Speeding up development activities in student projects with time boxing and scrum. In DS 69: Proceedings of E&PDE 2011, the 13th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education, London, UK, 08.-09.09. 2011 (pp. 559-564).
  4. Tollestrup, C. H. (2015). Project time boxing and milestones as drivers for open design projects. In The 17th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design EducationConference on Engineering & Product Design Education (pp. 506-511). Design Society.

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