I have to start with a disclaimer: no, I haven’t yet become an agile junkie. Now, to the point – a sprint is a good, good thing. I don’t limit here sprints to Scrum short iterations which are called with the term. For me a sprint is every short period of time when you get a boost and you run as fast as you can to achieve a short-term goal. A sprint can be planned like in Scrum to give the most obvious example, but it can be a fairly random event triggered by some unexpected situation too.
I must admit for me a sprint is more an unplanned event than a part of a recurring schedule. It usually starts when I’m given, usually ambitious, task. Not necessarily the one I’d like. Then I set my mind to “get this darn thing done as soon as possible” mode and I start running. A motivation to finish the task, especially when deadlines are tight, helps me to put away less important issues. I usually get a boost of energy which makes my work more efficient. Sure, it doesn’t last long, since, well, sprint is a short-distance discipline, but you can run really fast. Another sprint-like approach is a do it now day.
I think that’s why using short cycles is generally quite a good idea when you set up your software development. However not every chunk is small enough to swallow it your throat is tight, so there are situations where you’ll need something more like marathon approach. There’s no “one size fits all” methodology out there.
I don’t limit sprints to planning software development cycles though. The technique can be great whether you are about to prepare a contract or you deal with loads of bugs submitted by quality engineers last week or you have to finish those performance tweaks before they enable a service for thousands of new users. That’s more about a mindset than about specific work you have to do.
Next time you have a task which should take you fairly short time (a few days, a few hours maybe) try to sprint. Not much strategy, not much thinking about anything else – just run as far as you can.
Oh, be sure to make good estimates. When breathing your lungs off after 100 meters you wouldn’t like to hear there’s another kilometer to run.