The Agilist Network

Tales and Tips from Agile Software Projects

Is Agile Too Noisy?

Posted by kenhoward on December 4, 2008

A common complaint from folks new to Agile has to do with all the noise and interruptions when working in a team room environment. Are the noise and all the interruptions causing your tasks to take longer than you’d like? Don’t worry.

In Rashid Khan’s book Business Process Management: A Practical Guide he references a 2001 study which showed that 90% of the time spent on a task is “lag time”, and the remaining 10% represents actual task time. The 90% represents the time that work is spent waiting in someone’s inbox, in transit, or blocked by other tasks. If an efficiency expert were to drive workers to crank through a task in half the time, they may be disappointed to see only a marginal impact to the overall productivity of the project. If a 10 hour task is completed in 5 hours, and nothing is done to reduce the 90 hours of lag time, the 5 hour savings is hardly noticeable.

To compound the lag time issue, a 2002 study by Safari found that technology workers spend an average of 31 hours per month looking for answers, researching issues and solutions for problems, and helping colleagues do the same. This constitutes 20% of their time spent seeking out information.

Tactics employed on Agile projects can attack these barriers to productivity. When a team is brought together in a team room, some will complain that the noise and dynamics interfere with concentration, negatively affecting productivity. Even if these factors cause a 10 hour task to take 15 hours, the project still benefits when lag time is slashed from 90 hours to 20 hours. Additionally, imagine the additional time saved when a missing knowledge item is announced in the team room, and (because all information experts are present) the knowledge gap can be filled immediately.

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