Clock Time, Event Time, and Bullet Time

When becoming agile, there are many ways that we start to look inward in order to change how flexible we can be.  We start to think about work differently.  We think about how we collaborate together.  We think about task, story and epic level things.  We also ponder time itself.    Is there a placeholder event for that?  Is this the appropriate time? Is the time-box up? I remember the high school teacher’s frustration at having students look eagerly at the clock – anticipating the moment when the bell would sound the end of class. Ultimately later in the year, the note underneath, which was posted and read “Time will pass.  Will you?”

 Clock Time

There are things that are run by clock time.  In the agile world we set limits on meetings and sprints Many organizations still account for hours. Things that are run by the clock.  It lends a sense of urgency and there is a certain puzzling in order to fit activities and interactions to fit appropriately.  Time does not stop. It marches.  What does change though – is our perception of time.  Some moments whiz by or instead as Shakespeare said slowly drags on and “Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time”.  When our days are managed by the clock, I often wonder if this alien and measured arbiter of fate sometimes robs us of an empowered position.  Some teams often measure a sprint burn down with hours remaining (Which I’ve previously talked about here) .

Event Time

When timelines are populated by events they often give us a sense of achievement and better context than Chronos‘ stamp of numbers.  I am looking for a task to complete rather than time to run out.  Choosing achievement over activity and hallmarking instead by the memorable actions which have culminated in a sense of completion.  Sometimes ending a day in a ‘good spot’.  Event time seems to allow for creativity and innovation that spark and motivate just a little more.  Doing something Better than before, not just the same way over and over.  Is event time always better? probably not as with all things there is a balance.  It will Clock time that helps us determine if something ‘unsustainable’. But, again, only because we haven’t achieved the desired events. A Team might measure tasks, not as hours remaining, but rather as events – only wanting to know if they are in progress or done. A retrospective timeline will often be measured in 3 ways – the chronological timeline (1) earmarked with events (2) and our reactions (3).

Bullet Time

The matrix first coined the term, being fluid and moving faster than we thought possible.  Unfortunately it always seems to be during crisis moments.  Whether on a six story drop on an amusement park ride or in front of a release review.  Our brain registers everything and goes into a hyper protective mode.  It’s sometimes hard to remain calm and in a problem solving in a panic driven environment.  At times the uber-urgency brings out some of the best in our teams in an almost Apollo 13 type of way.  There are no lives on the line, but the sense of responsibility doesn’t seem any lessened.  It usually takes longer term investments in teams of people to make critical and good decisions.  To support those teams we invest in infrastructure and technologies.  We let them adopt lightweight processes which enable them to move quickly.  Bullet time is not a sustainable thing. But some of the best days are briefly ventured here, when the team pulls together and works itself out of a crisis.  Even better when the team plans to avoid the same thing from ever happening again and moves back into Clock or Event time.

The Gift of Time

TEMPUS FUGIT.   It is a Latin phrase I’ve seen on a headstone in England.  Time Flies, or even flees.  It runs and escapes from us.  Our word ‘fugitive’ is derived from fugit.  In wanting to be the consummate agilist we can often find ourselves flexible enough to ask whether a meeting is worth it or not.  Granted there are certain times when it may not be.  We can cut short the meeting perhaps even cancel the meeting.  In essence, give some time back to whom it would have otherwise tied up. Perhaps we can refocus or re-purpose a meeting since we have some other high priority thing that needs our attention. Let’s do that instead. Maybe this meeting is really overhead and duplicates the purpose of some other meeting… can we simply stop the overlap and reduce these into a single meeting.  How often do we meet? is this daily, weekly, bi-weekly…  For many companies a meeting is 60 minutes.  Some did not consider a 50 minute meeting to provide for group transitions to the room and bio breaks.  What about a 30 minute group meeting?   The daily stand up is only about 15 remember? We did this as a standing meeting so that no one would get too comfortable and sedentary in thought.

Caveat, or in other words, ‘beware’.   Tempest is derived from tempus.  Watch to ensure that short term gains do not accumulate at the cost of longer term objectives.  Though it can be appropriate to cancel a planning meeting are we should be watchful the team is not storming around some not-so-well-formed stories in a future planning session. Will we ever think of doubling down on planning meetings in order to get beyond 1 sprint ahead?  Will we know something of what is coming so that emergent design doesn’t devolve into emergency design.  Another problem may be too many cancellations actually cause nobody to take this meeting seriously and skip attendance when it eventually is held.  Sometimes that repetition is a practiced cadence so that we can spend some box of time to work at a process need.

Other ways to give the gift of time…

Can we improve a process so it is easier, automated, or more robust? Did I leverage what others may have done?

Can we be mindful of our own communication and impact on others? Are we distracting or enabling others from focusing on the right things? Perhaps there was even a lesson learned that I might share to make a task easier for them.

Can I help someone or swarm with others on a task that will get this work to done?

Did I make myself available to someone who needs my help? In the same way, did we make our work visible enough or leave behind just enough artifacts to make this easier for the next team?

Is this a sustainable effort?  Can we maintain our pace with priority commitment through time?

And lastly – Did I give something back to the community?  What contribution, lesson, or insight can I share that might help others?  It could, just maybe, save them some time.