In today’s business environment a plurality of organizations use a two week sprint cadence.

In today’s business environment a plurality of organizations use a two week sprint cadence.

In Agile, cadence is the number days or weeks in a sprint or release. Stated another way, it is the length of the team’s development cycle. In today’s business environment a plurality of organizations use a two week sprint cadence. The cadence that a project or organization selects is based on a number of factors that include: criticality, risk and the type of project.

A ‘critical’ IT project would be crucial, decisive or vital. Projects or any kind of work that can be defined as critical need to be given every change to succeed. Feedback is important for keeping critical projects pointed in the right direction. Projects that are highly important will benefit from gathering feedback early and often. The Agile cycle of planning, demonstrating progress and retrospect-ing is tailor-made to gather feedback and then act on that feedback. A shorter cycle leads to a faster cadence and quicker feedback.

Similarly, projects with higher levels of risk will benefit from faster feedback so that the team and the organization can evaluate whether the risk is being mitigated or whether risk is being converted into reality. Feedback reduces the potential for surprises therefore faster cadences is a good tool for reducing some forms of risk.

The type of project can have an impact on cadence. Projects that include hardware engineering or interfaces with heavyweight approval mechanisms will tend to have slower cadences. For example, a project I was recently asked about required two separate approval board reviews (one regulatory and the second security related). Both took approximately five working days. The length of time required for the reviews was not significantly impacted by the amount of work each group needed to approve. The team adopted a four-week cadence to minimize the potential for downtime while waiting for feedback and to reduce the rework risk of going forward without approval. Maintenance projects, on the other hand, can often leverage Kanban or Scrumban in more of a continuous flow approach (no time box).

Development cadence is not synonymous with release cadence. In many Agile techniques, the sprint cadence and the release cadence do not have to be the same. The Scaled Agile Framework Enterprise (SAFe) makes the point that teams should develop on a cadence, but release on demand. Many teams use a fast development cadence only to release in large chunks (often called releases). When completed work is released often either as a reflection of business need, an artifact in thinking from waterfall development and, in some rare cases, the organization’s operational environment.

Most projects will benefit from faster feedback. Shorter cycles, i.e. faster cadence, are an important tool for generating feedback and reducing risk. A faster cadence is almost always the right answer, unless you really don’t want to know what is happening while you can react.