What’s Agile? Sustainable Pace (Principle #8)

It’s a shame that Scrum uses the word “sprints” for its iterations, because Agile doesn’t sprint. Neither does Scrum. Agile projects establish a reasonable pace that can be sustained indefinitely.

The eighth principle of Agile is:

Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

Principles behind the Agile Manifesto

Work Smarter, Not Harder

We’ve been hearing “work smarter, not harder” that it’s become a cliche. But it’s true. And Agile has adopted it as well.

Long hours, big pushes, and heroic efforts are signs of poor management. Ouch! Does that sound harsh? We’ve all had such times, so it really hits home to think that it’s our own fault.

But if you look back on such events, you can almost always come up with something that you could have done to prevent it. Learn from these episodes.

Do root cause analysis, and identify what could have prevented it. Then take steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

Challenge the Status Quo

Often the patterns of communication are just as important as the contents of communication….In the hours preceding the U.S. bombing of Iraq in 1991, pizza deliveries to the Pentagon increased one hundredfold. Anyone paying attention certainly knew something was up. (Interestingly enough, the CIA had the same number of pizzas delivered as any other night.)

Bruce Schneier, Secrets and Lies, p. 34

You may be inclined to forgive the Pentagon. It was the eve of war, after all. And yet, why tip your hand at such a moment? The CIA knows how to keep information like this from leaking: maintaining a sustainable pace.

It reminds me of the banks in the late 70s and early 80s. They were starting to use computer systems, but hadn’t quite figured them out yet. Every Friday afternoon, when the payday rush hit, the computers crashed. It took years for the industry to learn that they needed to have sufficient capacity for the peaks.

Your Agile project needs to be prepared for the peaks so that you can handle them without late nights and heroic efforts. Better yet, anticipate and eliminate peaks before they happen.

Don’t accept that long hours, big pushes, and heroic efforts are unavoidable. Challenge the status quo. Agile does, and so should you.

Pace v. Velocity

What about the Scrum concept of dramatically increasing a team’s velocity? Doesn’t that conflict with the Agile principle of maintaining a sustainable pace? No. Here’s why.

The pace is the level of effort of the individuals. It’s how hard they’re working.

The velocity is how much the team is able to accomplish in a sprint.

The wrong way to increase velocity is to have the people work harder (longer hours, weekends, etc.).

The right way to increase velocity is to have the team work smarter.

How? By removing impediments to the team’s productivity. Provide them with the right environment, without distractions that interrupt their productivity. Make sure they have the right tools. Communicate effectively to avoid wasting time building the wrong things.

Eliminate processes that are unnecessary. Add processes that increase velocity, such as a few key automated regression tests, staging environments, and so on. For more ideas, see 12 Practical Steps to Avoiding Stabilization Sprints.

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Read this next: What’s Agile? Excellence (Principle #9)

3 Responses

  1. […] Is your Agile project experiencing continuous improvement? Remember that it needs to be continuous – not just occasional. If it’s not continuous, perhaps it’s because you’re not running at a sustainable pace. You may want to review What’s Agile? Sustainable Pace (Principle #8). […]

  2. […] your team’s technical excellence continuously. Don’t go at such an unsustainable pace that your team doesn’t have time to improve their technical excellence during the […]

  3. […] Read this next: What’s Agile? Sustainable Pace (Principle #8) […]