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What is slack time and why is it important for your team? | David Tzemach

As in real life, you can’t sprint all the time. If you're not a robot, you need to rest between sprints. What’s true for the best athletes is also true for the Scrum team. In Scrum, the team works in short intensive sprints of 1-4 weeks. This is different from traditional software methodologies that are more like running a marathon.

Scrum sprints are intensive because their primary purpose is to provide value to the customer waiting at the end of the sprint. At the start of the Sprint, the team creates the sprint backlog reflecting their commitments and needs to work very fast in a constantly changing environment. Each team member works in an intensive environment that does not usually allow time to relax and put off their tasks (the customer is waiting…).

“Slack time” provides the rest time the team needs to regain their strength. But that's not all; it also helps increase team motivation and morale (essential factors for creating self-organized teams).

The common practice in the industry is that the Scrum team starts the planning meeting right after the retrospective is over to begin the next sprint on the first day of the following week. The problem with this approach is that the majority of the team will not be focused enough to conduct an effective meeting. They didn’t have time to stop and think about all the information and lessons learned from the previous sprint. In addition, the PO will not have time to prepare the backlog (based on the feedback received during the retro/review meetings), and so on.

Give the team some slack.

The solution to the problem identified in the previous section is introducing some slack before the team starts a Sprint. It would help if you gave the team time to rest and think about the last retrospective before the next planning meeting.

Here are some examples of using slack time in your environment:

Without slack time:

Friday 10:00-11:00: Sprint review (Sprint 1)

Friday 11:00-12:00: Sprint retro (Sprint 1)

Friday 13:00-17:00: Sprint planning (Sprint 2)

With slack time (option 1):

Friday 10:00-11:00: Sprint review (Sprint 1)

Friday 11:00-12:00: Sprint retro (Sprint 1)

Friday 12:00: slack time.

Monday 09:00-13:00: Sprint planning (Sprint 2)

With slack time (option 2):

Thursday 08:00-09:00: Sprint review (Sprint 1)

Thursday 10:00-11:00: Sprint retro (Sprint 1)

Thursday 11:00: slack time.

*Friday: Learning time

Monday 08:00-12:00: Sprint Review (Sprint 2)

*Note: in option 2, I added another day (Friday) the team can use for learning activities or do whatever they think is best for the team effort.

If you decide to use the slack time as learning days, these tips can help:

  • Learning days should be added per month and not after each sprint so that we will add one learning day at the end of the second sprint in the case of two-week sprints.

  • Try to make this day company-wide; it becomes less effective when some teams work and others rest.

  • Although this time is dedicated to the team, you still need to see that it adds real value. There is no reason to use these days without adding real value to the team, process, or business.

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