Takt Time & Sprints

Takt is a German word that has been adopted by lean. The original meeting is “beat” or “rhythm”. In an auto plant we may see a one minute takt. This means that every minute a finished car rolls off the assembly line, a dashboard is installed, a car is painted, etc.. Software development cannot possibly resemble his repetitive highly orchestrated pattern, or can it?

We’re not a factory

It is exactly this image that most creative and white-collar professionals abhor, and for good reason. Each request in their environment is unique and will require an unknown mix of skills to get it done. It is not like building the 109,345th Camry. The reality of what it will take will also not match our initial estimates. Toyota knows exactly how long it takes to make a Camry. How can we create a repetitive process if our work is inherently not repetitive?

Rather easily if we accept that the work itself is unique, but our process for handling it doesn’t need to be.

Timeboxes, Planning, & PDCA

Although being agile doesn’t require “sprints”, it does require planning, frequent delivery, quick feedback and reflection. If you simply put consistent timeboxes around those things, you get sprints.

A sprint is a PDCA cycle. We get an idea for how we can deliver the most value in the timebox. We execute, get feedback, reflect, make changes for how we’ll execute the next cycle based on our learnings and repeat.

We use sprints to accept that the work itself is unique and cannot be standardized like an assembly line, while saying that the way we plan, execute, track, and reflect on that work can be standardized. In this way, we improve the way we do the work and establish our takt.

Sprints as Takt

Takt sets the cadence in lean – people need to fit within it and improve.

Agile sprints do the same. You know the duration, every time. You improve how you execute within them, regardless of the type of work it is. 

The need to juggle multiple competing priorities is greatly reduced. The priorities for the sprint were made clear in planning.

In lean manufacturing, there is only one line. Which car do I work on? The one in my station. When will the next car arrive? In one minute. When is this one due? In one minute. Does this ever change? No.

Your sprint process should offer similar confidence to team members. We should be able to feel the takt and all our activities should align to it.

In agile, there is only one sprint. Which request do I work on? Those committed in sprint planning. When will the next request begin? At sprint planning. When is this one due? When the sprint ends. Does this ever change? No.

Challenge

What is your takt?

Do you respect your takt? Does everything fit within the cadence?

Is your takt the heartbeat of your team, or that of the organization?

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