Why we love to slack off

Expect the unexpected

Because requirements change, people change their minds, and code always has surprises, we love slack time. Or rather: we invest in slack time because it makes us much more resilient.

To us, slack time means that we don’t plan 100% of a squad’s capacity. No, we apply the 80/20 rule to our time. We schedule 80% of our time and leave room for 20% slack time. Slack time is our time buffer. We use it to pick up unexpected activities asap instead of having to wait for the new sprint, month, or even quarter.

Now, these figures can, of course, differ per squad and period. It could be 85/15 or 60/40 or any other ratio depending on the specific context. And when a squad primarily works priority-based and stakeholders don’t expect strict timings, the 80/20 rule is less relevant.

The general idea is clear: there is a level of unpredictability when it comes to development – and many other things in life, for that matter. But let’s stick to tech here.

You expect it, you plan it

So what to put in the 80%? Everything: new development, bugs, operational activities, spikes, refactoring, you name it. And what to put in the 20%? Nothing. We don’t know what will come up. The buffer is meant for the unexpected, remember?

Scrum Master Senne Croughs explains how his squad deals with three different types of ‘roadmap time’: “We use three types of time: regular time, extra time, and slack time. Regular time is everything we planned for in our sprint planning, and extra time is meant for scope changes initiated by the business. As my squad works in advertising, things often needed to happen yesterday, and by planning extra time, we facilitate the business in their changing needs. We don’t consider that slack time – slack time is only for exceptional cases.”

Slack time gives us the freedom to fix crucial issues without having to review our entire planning.

Jaro Vanderheijden
Frontend Developer

Put bugs in the schedule

We simply can’t assume that we’ll be able to use the buffer for bug fixing; something else may come up and interfere. You could argue that bugs and incidents are unexpected, but let’s face it: we all know that they do arise. So we take the average time spent on them and put it in the schedule. The same goes for expected operational tasks due to last-minute requests from stakeholders – you know it’s coming, so plan for it.

True slack time

Examples of true slack time are when a squad encounters an unexpected big incident and wants to prevent future occurrences or when editors request a special feature to report on a major news event happening right now.

Jaro Vanderheijden, Frontend Developer, thinks slack time is very valuable: “It gives us the freedom to fix crucial issues without having to review our entire planning.”

Apart from boosting our resiliency as a company, slack time is also crucial for our tech talents’ peace of mind. If we’d plan everyone’s day full, all the unexpected work would lead to endless workdays and hours of overtime. Resiliency + happy colleagues = win-win-situation.

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