Being Agile Means Being Sustainable

The Shepherd Gate Clock with Roman numbers up to XXIII (23) and 0 for midnight, in GreenwichOne of the twelve principles behind the Agile Manifesto is, “Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.”

I feel like this is a concept I’ve struggled with most of my adult life, in that I keep running into people who don’t want to work a sustainable schedule, and that confuses me.

It has been pretty well-established that our productivity drops if we work too many hours in a week, or too many hours in a day. Just like we know that, if we sleep too little, we will be tired. Or if we too much food, we’ll get fat. We know these things, and yet we regularly ignore them.

I had a boss once who seemed perfectly comfortable with us working 50, 60, or 70+ hours in a week. He certainly worked that many or more. But what was astounding to me is that I knew we had read the same books, and studied the same concepts, and yet we had divergent views on this (and many) subjects.

I am emphatic that people should not work more than 40 hours a week, and that they should also be careful of their time outside of work to make sure that they are not further exhausting themselves. For every hour beyond 40 that we work, there is a drop in productivity, and those extra hours become useless real fast. We’d be better off working 30 hours at peak productivity rather than working 60.

Agile states at the very front that we should be sustainable, and work a pace that can be maintained indefinitely. Every once in a while, there may be a need for crunch time and an extra push of effort, but those schedules should be short and far between.

Maintaining a sustainable schedule requires multiple people be involved. The people at the top need to establish a culture of sustainable hours, and be careful not to ask more of their employees. The employees need to resist both the urge and the temptation to work more hours. When you’re trying to get a promotion, or raise, or bonus, it can be very tempting to work a bunch of extra hours and try to get that gold star. But in doing this, we are likely decreasing the quality of our work, the quality of our lives, and hurting our overall workplace. Working extra hours starts to establish a new normal that negatively impacts everyone.

200 years from now, it won’t really matter to the world if I worked an extra 10 or 20 hours a week, nor is it likely to have that positive an impact on my workplace. Conversely, by maintaining a sustainable work schedule, I’ll be happier and healthier, which will help me be better to my coworkers, and my family, and my extended community. The opportunity for me to have a positive impact on this world is greatly improved by maintaining balance in my life.

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