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Does the productivity decline if you don’t time box?

2009/09/19 1 comment

Having just read Dan Ariely’s excellent Predictably Irrational, I have a lot to reflect on. On my latest project, we’re using Kanban, which means that we don’t timebox, we don’t use sprints and we don’t estimate. But does research support the notion of excluding the concept of time boxes.

Dan Ariely made an interesting study.  He had three groups of students, which all were supposed to hand in three papers during a course in Consumer Behavior. He gave the three different groups different instructions concerning these papers.

Group 1:  They could hand in the papers at any time of the semester. The student would themselves set the deadline for each paper. If the self proclaimed deadlines were not be met, there would be a penalty. All students had the option to set the deadlines on the last day of the class but they could also use the deadlines to force themselves to start working earlier and work during the whole semester.

Group 2: This group would have no deadlines and they could hand in their papers at any time and there was no risk of penalties if they did hand in their papers before the end of the class.

Group 3: This group were given specific deadlines for each paper and there penalties if the deadlines were not met.

Which group do you think got the best grades?

The third group had the best grades. The second group got the worst grades. Ariely points at our tendency to procrastinate makes us delaying important tasks and the best way to avoid this is a formal figure giving us specific deadlines. But the study also shows that if we ourselves are given the option to set our own deadlines, this helps us to evaluate this risk and handle it.

If you look at the deadlines in group 1, the ones who spaced their deadlines did as well as group 3 while the students who placed their deadlines at the end of the semester.

So, what does this mean for software development? Does it mean that removing the iterations, independent if you work waterfall or kanban, increase the procrastination? I need to think more on this and this will for sure be a subject on our next team meeting.

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