The ideal sprint length.
The core of the agile method is the so-called sprint. It includes a time period in which a team is supposed to get from A to B. What do you mean? What is the ideal amount of time for a sprint? One week, two weeks, three weeks, more – or less? Or until you think “it depends”?
What is important? The complexity of the work content? That’s exactly the difference! At this point, AGILE turns our usual way of thinking around 180°, so to speak. Agile product development keeps the sprint duration constant at two weeks. The complexity can be compared to a swimming pool that is filled with a constant length (two weeks) with a corresponding depth (the team capacity). Every two weeks, the pool contents are filled with the current complexity.
The power of rhythm.
Now imagine that a team takes on such a “swimming pool volume” before the start of a sprint, it works through the contents of the volume over two weeks. After that, the team checks what they have achieved. Especially after the first sprint, the team realizes that it has not achieved everything it had planned.
This knowledge gain flows into the planning of the next sprint. The updated planning will be implemented again within two weeks and the team will meet in time for further feedback. This time, too, not everything was achieved. Again, the findings are processed and lead to new, improved planning, etc. . In this way, the team gets into a steady two-week rhythm.
Now the crucial question for you: What does this do to the people who come into this new work rhythm?
»Your ability to plan will improve!«, »You will get better and better feedback in short cycles!«, »You will become more and more reliable!«, »You will become more and more aware of what you can do!«, »You will take more responsibility for your own planning!«, »The motivation to improve will increase«, »The cycles are short – the risk of failure is smaller, maximum one sprint duration!«, »Your courage to dare something will increase!«, »The team will weld together as a team!«, »You will have more fun!«.
I get this selection of many answers again and again from people who put themselves in the shoes of teams that work in an agile rhythm. This – and nothing else – is the goal of AGILE!
AGILE gets people into a rhythm of success. They are welded together as a team. With AGILE, people are given more personal responsibility. It’s about making people bigger!
How long do sprints last?
Is there a correlation between the estimation time and the deviation of the effort estimate in hours for development work? In an empirical study with more than 500 projects from pre-production, series and product maintenance development, developers were asked how many hours they need for a work package. This estimate was compared with the real effort achieved. There was an astonishing correlation: for work packages up to a period of 14 days, the degree of agreement between estimate and actual effort decreased linearly with each additional day. After 14 days, this deviation was no longer linear, but exponential! The reasoning was that the human brain’s ability to imagine is relatively best at 14 days.
You know the effect of weather forecasts: Observe the forecasts that have a horizon of 14 days. If you ask for a specific temperature value, you will get that as well. But that’s an average of “heaven and hell“.
What does this mean for your projects? With longer periods of time, the willingness and, above all, the ability of the individual to take responsibility for the predictions made and to personally commit to them decreases significantly. Estimates over a period of two weeks have a higher value.
The genius: our subconscious.
I believe that a lot of this happens unconsciously. Our consciousness should be able to process about 15 bits/sec, i.e. about 15 pieces of information such as smell, taste, hearing, etc. at the same time. Our subconscious mind is said to be able to process 1 million times more information than our conscious mind. An extreme example of this is the autistic Stephen Wiltshire (“the living camera“), who flew over Rome and other cities by helicopter for the first time and was then able to paint every detail on a canvas in just three hours.
The brain’s ability to convey information to our subconscious mind is higher when it comes to images. Target images that we also like, i.e. with which we can build a positive relationship, slip into our subconscious at the speed of falling. All forks in the road and decisions are then subconsciously steered in one direction in order to achieve an attractive target image and make it a reality. We can no longer defend ourselves against the achievement of our goals.
An estimated duration of two weeks is obviously more “brain-friendly“. This is a relevant difference to conventional project management. Instead of adapting the time horizon to the complexity of the task, a fixed, two-week rhythm is installed and the degree of completion is adapted to this fixed duration. At AGILE, this is called “timeboxing”.
Make room for more.
This is exactly why AGILE turns the question around. It is not, “How much time do you need?” but “What do you want to finish in 14 days?”
When changing the way of thinking, i.e. away from the familiar “Bermuda Triangle” of Q, K, T (quality, costs, deadlines), in which an attempt is made to fix all three dimensions, one dimension is shortened: Q = content is variablized. This leads to an enormous effect: the energy released is converted into more commitment!
This change is fundamental. This is not immediate. We humans need rituals and constant repetition so that the synapses form in the brain in order to make it a permanent change in behavior. Teams usually need 3 months of repetition to get into the new work rhythm in order to be able to live it intuitively.