Try This Experiment and Find Your Agile Limits

I’d like you to try this experiment. Take a planning activity that you and your software development team perform on a regular or intermittent basis and cut the allotted time to one tenth of what is normally expected. That’s it. Try it!

You read that correctly. You get 10% of the time that the activity would normally take. That means a week shortens to 4 hours. A month comes down to 2 days. Scary thought, isn’t it?

Here are some examples to get you thinking through this experiment:

  • Prepare a product vision statement – Expected: 1 week. Allotted: 4 hours.
  • Prepare project plan – Expected: 2 weeks. Allotted: 1 day.
  • Write a user story – Expected: 30 minutes. Allotted: 3 minutes
  • Write a test plan – Expected: 2 days. Allotted: about 90 minutes
  • Lay out a UX design – Expected: 3 days. Allotted: about 2 and a half hours
  • Estimate the time for a set of stories – Expected: 2 hours. Allotted: 12 minutes

You can do it.

It’s natural to think that you can’t reduce the usual time for an activity by 90% and still end up with anything of value — but you can. The point of the experiment is to change the way you and your team approach planning activities — you need to change thinking habits and establish new patterns.

We all fall into behavior patterns. After we’ve performed an activity multiple times, we naturally assume the activity will take a prescribed amount of time. Based on that, we structure our tasks such that we will finish the activity in the expected time.

There’s nothing wrong with natural behavior patterns — but they limit our ability to be agile. If you’re serious about improving how work gets done, you need to change how people approach their work. If you’re serious about creating better outcomes, you need to change the rules.

Cutting the expected time by 90% may seem overly drastic. 10% of the original time estimate may not be enough to achieve the quality results you need. That’s okay. The team will will learn a lot about what really matters in performing the target activity. Team members will also learn more about each other by undertaking this experiment. You’ll find ways to reduce the expected time — maybe not by 90% but 75%, 50% or even 25% reductions would be huge wins. Think about it.

Give it a try. You have nothing to lose. If you don’t like the result, very little time has been wasted and you can revert back to your normal approach. Please let me know how the experiment works out by leaving a comment.

Updated: March 20, 2012 — 10:44 pm


  1. i am sure a try to apply this approach will face a lot of resistance.. 🙂

    1. Yes, resistance is inevitable which is precisely why people need to try this experiment. There is little to lose and much to gain.

  2. Vin —

    I’ve been both trying your technique and delivering “sessions” on it for the last year and a half. Here’s (not) a surprise: it works if you want it to.

    The sessions have been mostly at Open Space-type events, where I take the normal session length and do a session on this technique in one-tenth of the time, giving rise to my usual title: “Getting Things Done in One-Tenth the Time.” About thirty seconds goes in to providing a reference to this post and giving you credit for the bolt of lightning that hit me when I read it.

    Once, in a six-minute session, a 2.5-minute question proved challenging, but not fatal; we finished on schedule.

    I’ve found what your technique was meant to illuminate: each time I give the session, I think of more references, stories, supporting comments, and take note of those. If I’d used more than one of them the next time, we wouldn’t finish the session, of course. It’s all about doing the simplest thing that could possibly work, then stopping.

    And stopping is the hard part: I walk from my presenter/facilitator position to another part of the room and sit down with the rest of the attendees. Most are nonplussed, with someone always asking, “Is that all?”

    Hmm: reading this reply just now, it occurs to me that it could have been shorter, maybe by about 85 to 90%.


    + Michael

    1. Awesome, Michael! I push this technique every chance I get and I almost always get positive feedback. Thanks for the feedback!

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