Time-boxing is the practice of ending a meeting exactly on time regardless of the state of discussion or the desire of participants. In Scrum, the combined length of the Sprint Review and Retrospective Meetings is determined by the length of the Sprint. For example, a one week long Sprint has Sprint Review and Retrospective Meetings that are time-boxed to two hours in total. It is acceptable for the meetings to take less time, but not more. A two week long Sprint has a Sprint Planning Meeting that is time-boxed to four hours. Keeping the Sprint Review and Retrospective Meetings time-boxed has two beneficial effects: one, the team keeps the overhead dedicated to meetings to a relatively low level, and two, the team learns to do effective inspect and adapt in a very short period of time. If the meetings are not time-boxed, then typically the team will keep going until they are “done”… and break the time-box of the overall Sprint.
The Scrum Master of the Scrum Team must help the team follow the time-boxes. There are several ways that the Scrum Master can do this.
- The Scrum Master must be hyper-aware of time and have facilitation skills to ensure the time-box is followed. The Scrum Master should use a countdown timer during the meetings and regularly remind the meeting participants of the amount of time remaining for the meeting.
- The Scrum Master must prepare for these meetings by reminding everyone about the meeting before it starts, by preparing an agenda (which does not need to be too detailed), and by ensuring that all the necessary materials are ready (e.g. note cards for a retrospective technique).
- For the Sprint Review, in particular, the Scrum Master needs to ensure that the team prepares the demonstration. This may be done very informally with little preparation, but sometimes, particularly for complex or business-critical features, more careful preparation is necessary. The team’s preparation should include determining which team members will be doing what during the demonstration. The best demonstrations are hands-on and so usually multiple workstations are set up for stakeholders to play with the system. By parallelizing the demonstration in this way, it is much easier to keep within the time-box while simultaneously allowing all the attendees a chance to do a full review of the increment. Avoid single-workstation presentations even if they are live demos!
- The Scrum Master should strongly discourage late arrivals to these meetings. Late arrivals often result in re-hashing topics which have already been covered.
- Both the Sprint Review and the Sprint Retrospective should occur physically in the team’s space so that all tools, materials, documents, and charts are near at hand. This proximity and convenience of information will ensure that these meetings flow smoothly and with minimal interruption.
- And the Scrum Master may have to use aggressive facilitation with individuals who cause meetings to go past their time limit. Individuals who habitually arrive late, dominate discussion, or insist on arguing points that the rest of the team has moved past should be advised in no uncertain terms that such behavior is damaging the team’s ability to work effectively.
[Sprint Review has] a four-hour time-boxed meeting for one-month Sprints. For shorter Sprints, the event is usually shorter…. — The Scrum Guide [The Sprint Retrospective] is a three-hour time-boxed meeting for one-month Sprints. For shorter Sprints, the event is usually shorter. — The Scrum Guide
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