One of the fundamental tools in Agile and Lean is cadence. A cadence is a regular, predictable rhythm within a process. For instance, your staff meeting is held every Monday at 10am, or your website is refreshed every 4th Tuesday. Agile sprints are another example of cadence.
A regular, predictable cadence saves time by reducing time spent scheduling, and by “clumping” work together. You know when your staff meeting will be, so you hold issues until that meeting and do them all at once, rather than addressing each issue individually with a flurry of emails or a special meeting.
Which Activities Might Be More Efficient on a Cadence?
When coordinating or planning an activity requires a lot of back-and-forth conversation among many people, you can save time by putting that activity on a cadence.
Some activities which often benefit from a cadence are:
- planning and scheduling
- integration across multiple teams
- work by anyone who is assigned to your team 10% or 20% time
- progress updates and workload balancing
- product releases
For instance, imagine your team is allotted 10% of an expert’s time. That’s just four hours a week. Everyone on your team sends questions to the expert at random times during the week, and he calls your people back or arranges quick meetings with them to answer their questions. The questions are answered quickly, but every week the expert spends a substantial portion of your precious four hours leaving messages and arranging times to meet. His efficiency is further reduced by the interruptions as questions arrive in the midst of his other work.
You’ll get much more value from your expert if you put his work on a cadence. Try scheduling two regular time-slots per week for the expert to visit your team, and ask your team to bring all their questions to those time-slots. This reduces the overhead for the expert, allowing him to spend more time on your issues. There’s a bonus, too – the expert and your team have more opportunities to see relationships between the issues which might be missed otherwise.
How Do I Create a Cadence?
Creating a cadence can be as simple as setting up a recurring meeting to do specific work at the same time every week.
The first step is identifying the activity (or activities) which will be put on a cadence. The activity must be something concrete that has a clear output or deliverable, such as questions answered or a decision made.
Then schedule a recurring date on a regular cadence, such as once a week or every 4th Tuesday. Set up whatever guidelines or rules are needed to discourage breaking the cadence. If the cadence is not reliable, people will keep doing work outside the cadence and not get the benefit of the cadence.
Finally, consider whether there are related activities which should also be put on the same cadence or a coordinated cadence. For instance, a sprint in Scrum puts several activities on the same cadence – integrating user stories together for delivery, demonstrating user stories to the customer, and deciding which user stories to start next. All three activities are done once per sprint.
Cadence and Rapid Learning Cycles
A cadence puts the “cycle” in Rapid Learning Cycles. Each Rapid Learning Cycle is the same length, so the decision meeting at the end of the Rapid Learning Cycle happens on a regular cadence. Putting these decisions on a cadence makes the process more efficient, by reducing the overhead of planning and scheduling the decision meetings. A cadence also tends to “pull” work through the system by making progress easily visible.