Being flat out busy is not effective agile


This is a chapter that I wrote for the book ‘So you want to be a Scrum Master?’. I co-authored this book with 5 of my colleagues for our recent hack-a-thon. This book is free to download from Leanpub.


Going slow to go fast

We have all heard of this phrase. If you are anything like me, you may have used it many times too. In this modern day, technology and with it our world is changing at a rapid pace. It is not going to slow down either. If that’s the case, why is it bad to go fast? Surely we need to catch up with all the changes, don’t we? The answer is a simple – No. Let’s understand why. Being busy doesn’t mean being productive.


Most people confuse operational speed (time taken to complete a task) with strategy speed (the time taken to deliver value). Being fast at operational speed will not necessarily yield good value in the long run. But going fast at the strategy speed will do. Increasing the speed of production may appear to be delivering more items but it is only going to slowing us down later on. If we are improving and getting faster at reducing the time taken to deliver value even a smaller number of items moving through production will produce greater value. This is because when we slow down we can take time to understand what is most valuable to be delivered first.


If the only constant in your sprint is delivering items at a fast pace, then you are likely to not have any time to reflect. Every team needs time to reflect on their achievements and disappointments. We know that from this reflection comes the learning which is invaluable to the team. Being agile means to be able to improve learn and adapt based on our performance. It is important to pause at key moments to stop and take stock. This will help the team to make sure that they are on the right track.


When teams work without slack their focus on the big picture gets jaded. They will not be able to keep updated with the changes being made to this big picture. Ironically they won’t be agile enough to adapt to this change. Ultimately this will result in undesired or incomplete features with poor quality. Lower quality means lower value delivered. This lower quality will add more work to the team backlog in the form of bugs and issues. The team then spend time on fixing these bugs instead of working on higher value items. You see the vicious circle here, don’t you?

Not sustainable

We adopt agile practices with the aim of improving consistency and for the ability to deliver frequently and iteratively. If the team are concentrating on being fast with operational speed, then in the first few sprints they will deliver a lot of items. But over time they will be exhausted by working without slack. This exhaustion will result in a drop in productivity and will deliver fewer items. They may continue to deliver iteratively but this will not be their best. This may result in a low morale in the team. Burnt out frazzled employees are not likely to be happy and may leave the company. This is a massive loss for the company as they will lose good employees and end up spending tons of time and money on recruitment.

If you would like to read more, you can download the FREE book here:


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