An introduction to a key business agility practice

28 Oct 2021


A timebox is a fixed period of time, at the end of which one or more objectives will have been met – as evidenced by the completion of something of value to the business.

The duration should be long enough to do something useful and worthwhile, but short enough to retain the team’s focus given the immediacy of delivery.

Two to four weeks is typical for timeboxes that involve development.

Ideally, frequent review points should occur throughout a timebox to check the quality of products as they evolve and the efficiency of the development process.

This low-level control is useful in ensuring that development stays on track, especially during longer timeboxes.

Other benefits of Timeboxing include:

  • Clarity of purpose given that each timebox has an agreed set of objectives.
  • Enhanced team working, collaboration and commitment.
  • Stakeholder buy-in and enthusiasm being sustained by the early release of valuable products and features.
  • Improvements to product quality and the overall process stemming from regular reviews.

There are two types of timeboxing:

  1. Structured Timeboxing — where the individual timeboxes are split into a series of discrete steps. This approach is often used in DSDM.
  2. Free-format Timeboxing — where a less formal approach is considered appropriate. This technique is used for managing "Sprints" in Scrum.


Structured Timeboxing

Timeboxing - Structured Timeboxing.PNG


The following steps should be followed when using Structured Timeboxing:

1. Kick-Off

The purpose of Kick-Off is to get agreement about the objectives of the timebox, with the session taking no longer than one hour for every week that the timebox will last.

It should be attended by members of the delivery team and representatives from the business that are empowered to make binding decisions.

The focus is on selecting a coherent set of requirements to be progressed during the timebox that’ll deliver optimal value.

High-level acceptance criteria should also be agreed for any deliverables. 

By the end of the session, the delivery team representatives must have confidence that the target list of requirements is reasonable and realistic – based on resource availability, dependencies and other known risks.

2. Investigation (10-20% of the timebox)

The purpose of this step is to build a firm foundation for subsequent work within the timebox.

This is achieved by the delivery team and business working together to get a detailed understanding of each requirement, as well as the low-level acceptance criteria by which they’ll be deemed to be complete.

Potential solutions should be considered at this stage, with prototyping being a helpful way to explore ideas with the business.

By the end of the Investigation step, the team should be in a position to confirm what it intends to deliver in the timebox, with the most important and/or riskiest requirements being addressed first.

3. Refinement (60-80% of the timebox)

This step aims to complete as much of the work as possible in accordance with the agreed priorities.

Development work is carried out iteratively throughout Refinement, with the primary objective of meeting the low-level acceptance criteria.

At the end of Refinement, a review should take place with representatives from the business to determine what actions are necessary to complete any outstanding work – based on the priorities of the timebox, the acceptance criteria and the time still available.

4. Consolidation (10-20% of the timebox)

The focus of this step is on carrying out the actions from the Refinement review.

Final quality control checks should also be performed to ensure that the products meet the required standard.

Any products not satisfying the agreed acceptance criteria by the end of the timebox will be deemed to be incomplete.

Consolidation work should be prioritised in such a way as to maximise the number of requirements that are fully addressed – it’s more valuable to get one thing entirely done, rather than two things half done!

5. Close-Out

This is a short meeting attended by business representatives and other roles to formally accept the deliverables that have been created in the timebox.

Any work that’s deemed incomplete must be discussed in order to make informed decisions about moving it to later timeboxes (possibly with amended priorities), or dropping it altogether.

A mini-retrospective should occur at the end of the Close-Out session to explore ways of improving the future effectiveness of the development and timeboxing processes.



Free-format Timeboxing

Timeboxing - Free-format Timeboxing.PNG

This Timeboxing technique is used in Scrum, with the Kick-Off being called “Sprint Planning” and the Close-Out being split into separate “Sprint Review” and “Sprint Retrospective” steps. In addition, the Investigation, Refinement and Consolidation steps are merged into a single step.



Further tips

The effectiveness of these Timeboxing techniques will be enhanced by:

  1. Getting stakeholder buy-in to the concept and benefits of Timeboxing.
  2. Involving the delivery team with any estimation and planning, to improve the accuracy of the exercise and help bind the team’s commitment to the job at hand.
  3. Using Daily Stand-Ups to track progress at the lowest level.

    These are short meetings where individual members of the delivery team typically discuss:

    Demonstrating control over the work in this way will help build confidence in the outcome of the timebox

    • What they’ve been doing since the last Stand-Up
    • What they’ll be doing until the next Stand-Up
    • Any problems or issues they’re facing that might require the assistance of others.
  4. Making progress highly visible to the delivery team and the business – perhaps by using Kanban Boards and Burn-Down Charts.
  5. Managing risk throughout the timebox.
  6. Resisting attempts by the business to add any new requirements that broaden the scope of the solution once the timebox is underway.



Agile Business Consortium

Agile Business Consortium

The Agile Business Consortium is the professional body for business agility. We’re all about community – whether you’re a multinational working through a large-scale transformation, a new start-up, or a contractor, we can support you to achieve more, to grow more, and to build your business agility. As a global not-for-profit organisation that’s been around for over 25 years, our knowledge and experience around agile competencies and behaviours can offer you the guidance you need to reach your agility goals. Together with our partners, we create and share agile research, case studies, resources and tools that help you compete in today’s uncertain world. A registered not-for-profit, we’re the world’s longest-standing agile-orientated organisation. We’re the brains behind AgilePM®, AgileBA®, AgilePgM®, AgilePfM™ and AgileDS™. Based in the UK, we have members in over 30 countries around the world.
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