Are we slacking enough?

By | March 2, 2015

The team that I am currently working with is approaching the end of the sprint. After the last stand up, conversation turned to taking on more product backlog items before the sprint finishes, as the team felt like they had some spare time, or, slack. Most of the team felt strongly that we should be utilising as much of the team’s capacity as possible.

We discussed what the implications of taking more PBIs would be in terms of our team’s forecast for the sprint. We felt that the work planned at the beginning of the sprint was all in hand and would be comfortably finished, and that extra work from the backlog would definitely not cause a bottleneck somewhere within the team. So there was definitely capacity to do some more stuff!

The team continued to explore what things they could be doing during the time they considered as slack, things such as refactoring of code, technical debt or reviewing user interface designs for the upcoming sprint. All good ideas, but what other options were there? I suggested that maybe the time could be used to do something not directly related to the current product backlog, such as learning about a new technology that could help the team later on down the line or even use the time to work on something entirely different.


To be honest, I wasn’t surprised at the looks of shock from the team. It is a difficult corporate mindset to break, that every moment must be taken up with cranking out endless lines of code. How would the team ever explain that to their managers?

I’m not saying that we should spend all of our time playing Candy Crush, but it is no secret that our best ideas often come to us when our brain is not fixated on a particular problem, such as when we are in the shower. John Kounios, a professor in Applied and Cognitive Brain Sciences, says “Not having an explicit task is the main ingredient for random insights”. So, our slack time could be an opportunity for us to come up with a cool idea that we would not otherwise have come up with if we were always working at 100% capacity. Google’s well documented dedicated time for innovation lends proof to the theory that giving workers free time to think is often not a waste of time at all, and can often be valuable to the organisation, and therefore should be encouraged.

So how was the conversation after stand up concluded? The team agreed to take on some more backlog items.

Photo credit: Geralt

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