Can you work without weekends or vacation through a year? Unimaginable right! The same holds good with overworked agile teams. Why and how strategic breaks can help improve the team productivity is the topic of this post.
Why are breaks important?
Motivation is a key ingredient of successful agile teams. It is tough to sustain high motivation for longer periods of time. Lack of motivation has a direct correlation with diminished productivity.
Breaks help in reinvigorating energy that leads to increased motivation with the team. Here are some tangible benefits of taking a periodic short break:
- Time to conduct elaborate retrospection
- Perform less urgent but important tasks
- Cleanup long pending backlog items that are not directly related to the project
- Take a step back and get a fresh perspective of the project
In short, breaks help to inject a new shot of energy into the team.
How to take breaks?
Here are a few ideas to try.
- 3N + 3 – Take a break for 3 days after every 3 iterations. These 3 days exclude agile ceremonies and other planned meetings. The time is allotted “just” for the team to do the activities of their choice
- Half day a week – In this format, for a given week of any iteration, the team spends half the day in activities of their choice. Like the previous one, this can be done once in N iterations or every iteration. The advantage is that the project activities are not stalled while the team get their autonomy time
- Autonomy time – A specific time period in an iteration is allotted for break time. Who uses this time and what activities are taken up is left entirely to the team. The time is treated like a task and whomsoever can use it, will take it
- 2N + Week – Like the first option, the team takes a break for a week after every 2 iterations. If the project needs aren’t pressing and the management is agreeable, this option gives the maximum autonomy
Don’t forget to consider these…
Though breaks are good, keep these factors in mind before trying them with your team.
- Teams that aren’t self-governing usually prove to be bad candidates for breaks. Wait until their autonomy and self-management capabilities improve
- Keeping the break activities completely obscure is not a good idea. A limited overview helps to ensure that the team is using the time in a productive fashion. Consider requesting a demonstration or presentation of a plan on how the team will utilize this time
- Management buy-in is critical in implementing breaks. Explain the idea behind this initiative and present the potential benefits to the business. Don’t ignore or oversee their commitment
- Breaks are a good way to keep the motivation levels high in an overworked agile team
- 3N + 3, Autonomy time, 2N + Week, Half day a week are some ideas to bring some systematic breaks into the system
- Mature and self-organized teams are good candidates for breaks
- Encourage the team to shed some light into how they plan to utilize this time
- Don’t underestimate the importance of management commitment to such initiatives