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.
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.