Work less, be more productive? Sustainable pace can sometimes be overlooked, but actually it's one of the twelve principles behind the Agile Manifesto. Why is sustainable pace so important?

Agile processes promote sustainable development.

The sponsors, developers, and users should be able

to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

I feel there are several reasons for having a sustainable pace. When you love doing something working long hours won’t actually feel like a grind, but you’ll loose that important “down time” that spurs innovation and creativity. A sustainable pace isn’t necessarily a long marathon, but instead a series of sprints. In between these sprints you can get a chance to re-energize and get a couple of moments of quiet so your innovational juices gets flowing again. So the practice of having sprints/iterations/cycles isn’t just to shorten the feedback loop and releasing working software often, but also helps you clear your mind and re-energize.

The research also shows that every hour you work over 40 hours a week is making you less effective and productive – over both the short and long term perspective. A worker just don’t have more than a maximum of eight hours of good reliable work hours in them each day. For a very short sprint overtime can be effective, but it’s not like increasing the number of hours by 50 percent increases output by 50 percent. An increase of about 25-30 percent in output is more typical. If the period with overtime is carried on for several weeks it’s found that the team should just have stuck with the usual 40-hour week. Also, if the team works long hours for a long time getting burned out, it can take weeks to return to normal productivity after returning to the usual 40-hours week. As the linked article says, one hundred fifty years of research proves that shorter work hours raise productivity and profits, and overtime destroys them.

Rules of Productivity

For me personally I actually feel so strongly about this that if mandatory overtime is enforced I would really, really start to consider if I am really at the right place. Earlier in my career I was on projects where overtime was “optional”. They didn’t say it was mandatory, but it was strongly advised. Back then I was both younger and lived alone, so it only affected me personally when working those long hours. Fortunately this was only a short period of time, so I didn’t feel burned out. Also, I really loved what I was doing, so it didn’t really feel like work. If I had done some research back then I would definitively have had a talk with the managers about this. For one specific project it wasn’t just a short sprint with long hours, it was more like a constant state of overtime-mentality. I really think that project as a whole suffered because of that.

Now that I have both a wife and kids it’s more or less unthinkable to have a job where I must work long hours, even just once in a while. The research backs this up – you don’t really get that more produced by increasing the number of hours beyond those 8 hours a day, and both short term and long term consequences must be payed if you do. So sustainable pace to me is a given – no matter if your workplace is agile or not.

dilbert-google-20time

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