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Distributed Agile and Work-Life Balance

Agile impacts work-life balance!” This is what I heard from a project team during the initial days of 2010. The team was struggling to cope up with their commitment to deliver after repeated iterations. For them, ‘Agile’ meant not just overtime, but a lot of overtime. One of the team members commented that the team was going through a never-ending fast pace running. For this team, iterative and incremental development was becoming a tense journey.

When you are into a never-ending fast pace running, it is highly possible that you are going to drain yourself out and collapse. This can happen in distributed Agile projects.If you don’t reflect as a team, learn lessons and implement continuous improvement action plans, you are not following ‘Agile’. This can impact your work-life balance.

The way we do Agile projects needs to be aligned with the Agile Manifesto and the 12 Agile Principles. The eighth principle states that “The sponsors, developers and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.” This obviously does not imply consistent extended overtime hours! With this thought, I wanted to discuss this with a larger group and collect inputs.

It happened during November 2010.I had a speaking session at Agile Tour 2010 which was a one-day event and it included lightening talks and group discussions. I initiated a group discussion on ‘Agile and work-life balance’. That was an opportunity to understand the views of practitioners from various companies on this topic. We had participants both from India and abroad.

We had an intense discussion. We shared project experiences on work-life balance issues. Before we ended the discussion, we agreed that issues related to work-life balance are not specific to ‘Agile’, and we encounter these in agile projects because of

  1. Lack of effective planning and time management
  2. Poor or erroneous estimation
  3. Not having self-organized teams
  4. Ineffective tools
  5. Weak engineering practices

Maintaining work-life balance is one of the challenges during the 21st century. If project teams have to work over time during special occasions or product releases, it is necessary to take it as a challenge and support the customer.If project teams have to work overtime throughout the project and do not get to reflect on what is causing the work-life imbalance, then the team members will get stressed out.

If you are going through work-life balance issues, conduct a retrospective with your team and try to answer the following questions:

  1. Are all team members aligned to start productive work at a mutually agreed upon start time every day?
  2. Are there any issues that prohibit the team from managing their time effectively?
  3. Do team members participate in iteration planning and estimation meetings? Is the team able to come up with better estimates as they progress from iteration to iteration?
  4. Do team members work as self-organized teams in order to improve efficiency?
  5. Is the team wasting time because of slow or ineffective tools?
  6. Are the engineering processes so weak that the team spends lot of time in reactive quality management?
  7. Is the customer giving your team enough support and listening to their feedback and concerns related to work-life balance?

It is easier said than done. What has been your experience? Let us discuss.


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