The Agilist Network

Tales and Tips from Agile Software Projects

Will the Agile Holidays Create Discipline Debt?

Posted by kenhoward on December 16, 2008

holiday1Although I’m usually pretty disciplined about diet and exercise, I tend to slack off quite a bit during the holidays. Some believe that a vacation from discipline is a good thing every now and then, while others feel that “discipline debt” becomes hard to pay off.    I do know that losing the 5 pounds I’ll probably gain is going to be a hassle, and completing my twice weekly bike rides is going to be more difficult when I resume.


Many projects (Agile or not) tend to go on vacation during the holidays.   Not necessarily a full blown stop, but work may slow to a trickle.   Many will take days off and/or participate in other non-project related activities.  When a project team is shut out of office decorating, food-fests and gift exchanges, discontent can build.   


When planning a sprint that will span holiday weeks, it’s important for the leadership to agree on an acceptable velocity that could be lower than previous sprints.    This strategy continues to enforce the discipline of “we set a goal and work together to meet or exceed it.”    The alternative is to miss an unrealistic goal and blame it on the holiday.   Allowing this can open the door for all sorts of other excuses down the road.


Another strategy is to devise a holiday sprint – one focused on cleaning up outstanding housekeeping items that would be nice to get out of the way.   Items selected for the holiday sprint are hand picked based on size, complexity, and lack of dependency on resources who will be gone.  Although this may violate the practice of driving sequence based on priority, it does allow the discipline of the process to endure.


3 Responses to “Will the Agile Holidays Create Discipline Debt?”

  1. j pimmel said

    These are good strategies indeed. We used them successfully many times, not only during Christmas and New Year, but also public holidays of which there are more (and often longer ones of) in Europe.

    A holiday sprint is also more likely to be appropriate when the Product Owner themselves is the one who will be absent for a long period.

  2. In reference to the 5 lbs over the holidays… if the enjoyment of the food is worth more than the pain of losing the 5 lbs, then I say go for it. The variety is what allows us to value these things and weigh them against each other. Otherwise we get bored.

    Discipline is about knowing which choice is the better one for the common approach. I think the same holds true for the “holiday sprint”. I endorse the technical debt reduction sprint for this time window!

  3. I agree in general with priority-based sequencing, but often opportunity-based sequencing is more efficient. I never thought of it in a holiday context, but you’re right.

    I’m working on presentation-style materials for projects that are short-staffed due to budget cuts. By talking about holidays, you’ve given me another similar perspective–thanks!

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