I’ve got bad news and good news.
The bad news is the Pomodoro Technique® can seriously damage your team’s productivity.
The good news is that it’s very likely that you are not practicing the Pomodoro Technique® at all.
Timeboxing + Cirillo’s rules
The Pomodoro Technique® is timeboxing (that is, the practice of focusing on one single task for a certain lapse of time, avoiding interruptions) plus a series of additional rules, detailed in the Official Pomodoro Technique Book, written by Francesco Cirillo.
Cirillo didn’t invented timeboxing. He invented the additional rules, and he gave a fancy, intriguing name to timeboxing.
He also made timeboxing famous by associating it with the tomato-shaped timer.
It was a brilliant marketing move, since a lot of people are persuaded to be using the Pomodoro Technique® only because they use a 25 minutes, tomato-shaped timer, while they are in fact violating almost all of its rules.
Chances are you are among them. Let’s check.
You estimate using Story Points
The Pomodoro Technique® requires estimations in Pomodoros. This is a very unfortunate pick, since Pomodoros are a time unit, and everyone knows someone thinks that estimation by time units rather than Story Points is a very serious anti pattern.
Don’t you estimate in Pomodoros? Super! You are not using the Pomodoro Technique®! It’s a great news, since it’s apparent that Pomodoro Technique®’s estimations are not Agile compatible!
You don’t review each Pomodoro
Do you spend the first 5 minutes of each Pomodoro retrospecting the previous Pomodoro, as required by The Book?
No? Amazing! You smartly use those minutes to produce value. In the meanwhile, this means you are violating one of the basic rules of the Pomodoro Technique®.
You don’t systematically take 5 minutes pause between Pomodoros
Admit: if you schedule a 2 Pomodoros meeting you don’t celebrate a 5 minutes pause between the two Pomodoros, do you? This is very bad, according to The Book. Of course, I’m sure you don’t even resume the meeting retrospecting the previous 25 minutes, do you? And I bet you don’t use the last 5 minutes to repeat what you did, as prescribed by the Technique.
This is amazing! You are using plain timeboxing, with no Pomodoro rules, which could uselessly break an effective workflow!
You don’t schedule a dedicated Pomodoro for reading emails
You are not allowed to read emails between two Pomodoros. The Book states that no work activity can be practiced while pausing between Pomodoros, or the whole Technique can be ruined. You should schedule a Pomodoro for reading emails.
Aren’t you doing this? Cool! This is good: the Pomodoro Technique®’s approach to mail management is insanely drastic and inefficient.
You break Pomodoros
Do you strictly stop when the timer rings? Do you adhere to the Fundamental Dogma “If a Pomodoro is definitively interrupted by someone or something, that Pomodoro should be considered void, as if it had never been set“.
Do you drop and start over the work when interrupted?
You don’t apply Pomodoro all the day
Yes: I really mean, do you apply the Pomodoro Technique® as a methodology, for all your activities, each day of the week?
You work more than 4 hours a day
The Pomodoro Technique® divides each 30 minutes in
- 5 minutes for review
- 15 minutes of work
- 5 minutes to “repeat what you’ve learned since the beginning of the activity […] and then to print this in your memory“
- 5 minutes for a pause
That makes 15 minutes of work each 30. Counting the long pauses you must take each 4 Pomodoros, it’s less than 4 hours of work a day. Amazing!
You don’t synchronize with your teammates
You and your teammates should start the first Pomodoro together.
This is vital, since you can’t talk with them but in the pauses between Pomodoros, didn’t you know?
The problem is: what if you and your teammate start your Pomodoro series not in the same exact moment? Watch the diagram below. See the area highlighted in yellow? This is the first and only occasion you have to communicate with your colleague.
As a matter of fact, Pomodoro Technique® could be a nice technique for personal usage, but it’s almost unacceptable as a team management methodology.
It simply doesn’t scale.
You don’t compile an Activity Inventory Sheet
You probably didn’t know that the Pomodoro Technique® imposed the compilation of that sheet. It is, in fact, a fundamental artefact. More than 20 pages of the Book are about compiling the Activity Inventory Sheet.
It’s unbelievable that such a central topic is completely ignored by most practitioners, isn’t it? It’s probably due to the fact that few people really read the rules in the Book, and most of them just Cargo Cult the Technique. (By the way: did you at least read the Book? The majority of the Pomodoro Technique® fans I know did not).
Ignoring this artefact is somehow like skipping Unit Tests while claiming to be using TDD. It’s just unprofessional.
Luckily, the Activity Inventory Sheet isn’t that effective, and can be completely replaced with Scum, XP or Kanban backlog management.
You are applying Pomodoro-but
After all, it seems that, besides the use of the timer, you have neglected all the fundamental rules of the Technique. Isn’t it weird?
In other words, it seems you are not practicing the Pomodoro Technique® that strictly: all you are doing is a simple, plain timeboxing (which is great!) with the help of a 25 tomato shaped timer (which is completely nonessential).
Yet, you like to call it Pomodoro Technique®.
I can hear your voice: “Oh, don’t be silly! I’m using the Pomodoro Technique® but I’m not that orthodox“.
Uhm. It sounds fair.
Listen what you could hear from a team leader
“We don’t use Sprints. We don’t write tests. We don’t have a Product Owner.
We do Design Up Front with UML.
I’m proud to be the leader of a Scrum team.
Yes, we do Scrum because sometimes we do stand-up meetings.
Of course, we use Scrum, but not strictly“
Would you consider that team leader a professional manager?
To me, it’s like calling a shop list User Story only because it’s written on a Post-it. It’s just unprofessional.
For the same reason, I wouldn’t say “I’m taking a 2 sprints holidays” only because my vacation will last 4 weeks, would you? It would be just laughable.
So, when someone asks me what is that tomato-shaped timer for, I try to avoid being ridiculous saying that I use the Pomodoro Technique® and I proudly reply
I use timeboxing