Software development techniques and Agile methodologies

Agile time management may be as simple as setting a timer

By Cameron McKenzie

TheServerSide.com

About a million Web surfers look to Google for information on "time management" each month, according to Google AdWords. And rightly so – time management is an important aspect of any profession. When you consider the fact that many programmers charge an hourly rate for their work, time management is particularly poignant to application developers. If you're one of the million folks that Googled "time management" in the past month, then you probably already know there are a lot of time management tools available, and many of them cater to application development projects. According to some Agile experts, you may not need anything more complicated than a simple kitchen timer.

"I use one all the time," says John Kern, signer of the Agile Manifesto. "Sometimes it reveals really bad things, like the fact that I've been spending too much time on something." Every programmer has a tale or two of a problem or a glitch that needed to be solved more as a matter of pride than of pragmatism.

"I once spent five hours trying to get a DOJO calendar working inside of WebSphere Portal. Time just got away from me, and by the time I looked at the clock I was late for dinner. It's easy to let time slip away from you when you get captivated by a problem," says WebSphere Portal Architect Sal Pece.

Keeping a timer can do more than simply flag the fact that you’ve become a little too preoccupied with a problem or a challenge. There is the simple fact that as IT professionals you need to keep track of the hours you're working, and filling out timesheets shouldn’t be an exercise in guesswork. As Kern put it, “I bill by the hour, so when I'm ready to start a new feature on a project, I start the timer and I bill those hours right into JIRA” So having a handy little timer can not only help you to proactively identify those times when you’re spending far too much time on a given task, but it’s also a solid tool for helping you responsibly and honestly keep track of the hours you’re billing.

The usefulness can go beyond simply tracking time and billing clients. A popular and effective time management method known as the Pomodoro Technique relies heavily on the use of a simple timer. “The Pomodoro Technique transforms time into a valuable ally by helping us accomplish what we want to do and charting continuous improvement in the way we do it” says Francesco Cirillo. In its most basic form, the technique involves choosing a task, setting the timer to 25 minutes, working on the task until the timer rings, and then taking a short break after checking off your progress on a worksheet. As you can imagine, the idea of managing time through Pomodoros and charting continuous improvement over time is highly compliant with the types of Agile and Lean development methodologies that are so popular in application development circles.

And again, simple is better. There’s no need to go out and spend $59.99 on an interval timer from Runners World. All you need is something simple that works, be it an Android app on your phone, or a clock radio on your desk. “For the longest time I just had the little digital timer from Radio Shack. Now, I have this fancy one that works on the MAC.” says Kern.

If you want to be truly Agile and bring your projects in before the deadline passes, you need to master time management. You need to be aware of time passing, you need to be motivated by watching your project progress at regular intervals, and of course, you need to keep track of all of the hours that need to be billed. One way to help with all of these is to simply use a timer.

01 Mar 2012

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