Why is a sustainable work pace so important?

By: Paula Stewart
Published Date: 14 April 2019

 
DEVELOPMENT IS A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT

Sustainable development means regular delivery of business value through the delivery of software features over the life of a product. Modern product management organizations align budgets and teams around the lifecycle of a product, not projects. This ensures that the teams and organization can focus on outcomes instead of output. It is also critical to coach executive management around the inherent complexities in software development through frameworks like Cynefin, while providing complete transparency into the delivery process.

ORGANIZATIONS THAT PROVIDE A SUSTAINABLE WORK PACE ATTRACT AND RETAIN TALENTED STAFF

Companies that attract and keep talented software engineers, quality engineers, product owners, and business analysts have learned that if you want smarter ways of working, better products, scalable, well-performing solutions, you need your teams to work at a sustainable pace. The hours worked per week have a direct relationship to business value added for several reasons, as shown below. 

 

Ref: bhgagile

 

WHAT LEADS COMPANIES TO RUN THEIR STAFF RAGGED?

Across organizations, unsustainable work pace happens due to some common factors:

  • The organization creates delivery dates before teams with the right skill sets or environments are available to support the promised delivery.
  • The organization over-commits critical team members with tribal knowledge that teams must rely on. This creates ongoing bottlenecks.
  • The estimation of work and scope is decided by a part of the team instead of by the entire team involved in the work.
  • The team is expected to estimate/size work where “what” is to be delivered is not clearly defined at various levels, e.g., roadmap, features or stories.
  • The organization keeps shifting priorities (reactively or proactively) and bringing in other work, causing churn so that the team cannot focus on finishing what they start.
  • The organization adds to scope without adjusting the roadmap.
  • The roadmap does not adequately reflect the scope/effort while still driving teams to dates.

 

 

WHAT DOES AN INITIATIVE WITH UNSUSTAINABLE WORK LOOK LIKE?

The team(s) start working together. At first, everyone is excited. As the team moves closer to their arbitrary delivery date that has not changed with new information, team members start working longer hours, nights and weekends. During this period, frustration rises and concentration falls. This often leads to situations where the team cannot catch up because they are introducing defects and bugs as quickly as they are delivering functionality or they are amassing technical debt which increasingly makes it harder and harder to sustain delivery.

HOW CAN SCRUM MASTERS HELP?

Scrum Masters can support teams by making systemic issues visible to remove obstacles. Scrum Masters also work to ensure the amount of time and effort the team invests in a development process is more constant during the whole process. This is not only the case for the developers but also for the other team members and stakeholders, including product owners, testers, designers, sponsors, and users.  All these groups suffer when the pace varies a lot. During periods of little activity, the focus and interest in the product wanes and in periods of peak activity the stress and frustration limit the team’s ability to write bug-free-code.

Creating a sustainable development process requires your whole team to work together from day one. From a velocity perspective, efforts during the process need to be a team effort. As a Scrum Master you can coach your team to work strategically in a number of ways:

  • Ensure management, including technical and delivery leads, do not commit on behalf of the entire team.
  • Encourage UX designers to work multiple sprints ahead of the team creating prototypes through research without “polishing the chrome” as part of the definition of “Ready”.
  • Coach product managers, product owners, and business analysts to define clear acceptance criteria based on alignment with design as part of the definition of “Ready”.
  • Coach the team NOT to assign a story point value to a user story where acceptance criteria are obviously contradictory, wrong, or missing. If necessary, a Spike can be used to time-box research with acceptance criteria being the creation of stories to implement the change based on the spike
  • Coach QA to write stories in the backlog that include testing non-functional requirements: security, performance, and scalability. 
  • Encourage architects and delivery leads to ensure that standards are clearly defined, available and communicated to teams upfront to avoid delays in delivery.
  • Coach product owners to engage end-users and stakeholders in supporting the continued elaboration of requirements, and acceptance of work with small feedback cycles through regular UAT.
  • Encourage development managers to provide the infrastructure, and platforms so that code can move quickly through a pipeline. This allows the team to deploy to UAT regularly, ensuring constant productivity and feedback, instead of just at the end of a quarterly release.

Sustainable development enforces alertness and creativity within the team. There must be room for free time and relaxation. Quality, creativity, and focus suffer when team members continue to work at an unsustainable pace.

AN ONGOING COMMITMENT FROM THE BUSINESS IS NECESSARY

Business stakeholders must be prepared to provide feedback in small iterations and at a pace that they can support. The goal is for the development team to produce software that is at least immediately tested by end-users. The user community can give the development team direct feedback on the new functionality delivered. This way the users and developers create valuable software taking a cross-functional, iterative approach to software development.

A FEW WORDS ABOUT TEAM METRICS AND GAMIFICATION APPROACHES

The wrong external controls and pressures can cause teams to work unsustainably while also “kicking the can down the road” and amassing technical debt. These things also lock teams into being very inflexible around requirements and limits their ability to replace lower-value with higher-value work at any point-in-time. It is better to focus on removing any obstacles the teams face that make a big impact prior to applying gamification to the process. Metrics can lead teams to “game the system” and set up the wrong incentives. This is especially true if they are used to compare teams to each other. Metrics should be primarily used by teams as measures that provide feedback for continual improvement.

CONCLUSION

To create a solid product, you must make sure all stakeholders are constantly aligned with each other. Make sure all stakeholders are on pace with the speed of delivery and they can participate in iterative feedback loops. Do not stress the team members in such a way that creativity and alertness suffers. While delivering against a roadmap, keep the effort of all stakeholders as constant as possible.