Agile and The Two-Minute Rule
Why put off until tomorrow what you can do in the next two minutes?
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Procrastination is defined as delaying or postponing something. Procrastination creates waste.
Think about it: When you procrastinate, you waste mental energy thinking about the unfinished work. You expend emotional energy worrying about the impending deadline. You waste time continually moving the item on your To-Do list or rescheduling your days around the uncompleted task.
A principle of the Lean approach to software development and manufacturing is the elimination of waste. Much of the “waste” we continue to spend effort on is minutiae – small, trivial details that often add no value. Why is this principle important? Thinking about or planning minutiae — or worse yet, the procrastination of minutiae — steals mental energy that can be better used in delivering something; too much minutiae can paralyze us. Reducing minutiae speeds us up; it gets stuff off our plates and out of our head. Getting this stuff off our plate simplifies our lives. It gets rid of what I call “backlog minutiae” which are lots of little things to do that are not important but will take little bites of time that will add up to big chunks of time. Many of these items take longer to plan than they would take to actually accomplish.
In David Allen’s great productivity book, Getting Things Done, he describes the “two-minute rule.” If you can do something in two minutes, do it now. He’s not suggesting we should drop everything anytime something small comes up. But there should be a balance between what we do immediately and what we put off.
From the standpoint of an Agile practitioner, we look for areas to eliminate waste so we can obtain feedback and deliver more quickly. Too many interruptions and task-switching (multi-tasking) are unproductive and wasteful, but some things are worth doing right away to maintain momentum.
What does this look like in practice on Agile teams? Here are a handful of ways that the two-minute rule can reduce waste and procrastination, and speed us up:
- Can you walk down the hall to get an answer to a quick question? Go do it, instead of taking five minutes to write that perfect email, then sit there waiting ten minutes for an answer. One of the Agile principles states that we communicate face-to-face whenever possible.
- Can something that came up during the Retrospective be implemented immediately, without planning and without another meeting? If it can, do it now.
- During the Daily Stand-up, was something brought up that can be addressed quickly, right now? Don’t put it off; do it now.
- When the Stand-up is over, do you need a 30-second discussion to address an issue, and is everyone there that is necessary for the discussion? Then have the quick discussion now and get it done instead of spending time scheduling a meeting for some time in the future.
- Did a tester uncover a “quick fix” bug that can be easily corrected with 30 seconds of coding and a quick re-test? Then do it now.
- Can a design or wireframe be hand-drawn on a piece of paper in 30 seconds to explain an idea? Do that instead of taking 20 minutes to make a perfect-looking diagram. You can make it pretty later if you really need to.
- Did you or the Product Owner discover a helpful but minor aesthetic tweak that you can make while they are standing there? Then do it now.
- Do a quick, 2-minute relative estimation to gauge effort, complexity, and risk, rather than spending 20 minutes trying to develop an accurate time-based estimate (which will very likely be wrong anyway).
It probably took you about two minutes to read this post. Spend the next two minutes (don’t procrastinate) to find a few wasteful things you will eliminate from today’s To-Do list. Then, spend the next ten minutes completing five two-minute items so they’re off your plate. Do this once in the morning and once in the afternoon. It will be time well-spent.
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