How do you measure sustainable pace?

This was a question posed by my esteemed colleague Bernd Schiffer (@berndschiffer) on Twitter. This is a complicated thing to measure. We all know what effects unsustainable pace has, AND often when they show up, it’s too late. I’m going to divide this post into two segments; first will be early warning signs that a pace may be becoming unsustainable, so you can try and nip it in the bud early. Second will be how to determine that your pace is likely sustainable. (I say likely as it’s always possible these possible metrics may not catch everything.)

Early Warning Signs060417-N-9079D-108

So let’s start with signs that one (most likely a coach or Scrum Master or other suitable servant leader/team facilitator) may use to find out if a team may start to hit an unsustainable pace. None of these on their own may be enough to indicate encroachment of an unsustainable pace, so ensure you get a balanced view.

If you have access to time card data, and if people are honestly reporting their hours, you can look at how the hours they record are trending. This can help you spot both individuals that are undertaking an unsustainable pace as well as the team. This really needs to be complemented with a gemba walk so you know what are normal hours for people and when people may be burning the midnight oil. The occasional late night may be ok; perhaps the individual or team has an interesting problem they want to solve before going home. If this is a regular occurrence, then you most likely have an indicator that an unsustainable pace is starting to happen.

Look at check-in trends. Do they become more rapid in pace at the end of an iteration or before some significant milestone? Do these correlate to an increase in broken builds or failed tests? Does test coverage slip around these? These may be indicators that people are getting rushed in their work. Along with these, trends in escaped defects may also indicate whether a team is receiving pressure to deliver.

If you are running a Niko-Niko or otherwise taking a pulse of the team, then downward dips or loss of stability in happiness may likewise be an indicator that the pace may be becoming unsustainable.

Lastly, consistent carry over of uncompleted work between iterations, measured in story points if you are using them or just in the number of stories, tasks, et cetera, can be an indicator of possibly approaching an unsustainable pace.

None of these on their own though make for a good set of measures, only by cross-correlating them can you possible get a sense of a team’s pace getting to where it may begin to collapse under pressure.

So what should you do? Well if you are seeing these metrics, you will need to 1) confirm that the pace is truly becoming unsustainable and 2) remove the pressure in a manner suitable to getting the desired results. For both of these, sitting down one-on-one and having some conversations as well as conducting some retrospection as a team on what is happening may give more insight than any metrics could. This will also uncover the pressure that is causing it in the first place. The pressure may be appropriate; what may not be appropriate is the reaction. For example, suppose the product owner is not accepting many stories because of a team not meeting all their acceptance criteria. The team decides to begin working late rather than reduce the number of stories they take in as a means for ensuring they get all the acceptance criteria completed. The response is the issue, not the pressure.

Measuring Sustainable PacePressure-Gauge-Pressure-Detection-System-Heat-Meter-161160

With the above, you’d think it perhaps good enough to just look for the absence of those negative signs. Presuming people are truly being open and honest AND also aware of the pace becoming unsustainable then yes, the absence may work. But what if workdays have been regular, but then every so often a few extra hours go in, then suddenly there is a sharp uptick in the number of hours? That may take what was tolerable to intolerable, particularly if it causes stresses between workers where some have family commitments and others don’t and thus get ‘stuck’.

A better measure for maintaining sustainability on a team may be noting how often the team can push back on requests that regularly cause these extra hours. This means the team can choose when they want to do them or not. This is more of an observation. Combined with the Niko-Niko and absence of some of the metrics above, now we may be getting an additional dimension that says the team is working sustainably.

Another dimension can be how well the team honors the Retrospective Prime Directive, not only in retrospectives, but also during standard work. If they aren’t casting work in us vs them or treating other external stakeholders with contempt then the team is probably working sustainably.

And lastly, how often does the team celebrate? Do they take time to appreciate each other? These all are indicators of sustainable pace as well.

As you can tell, it’s probably difficult without an excellent Scrum Master/team facilitator, manager, or Coach paying attention to this.

Calculating Joy and Fulfillment

At the Path to Agility, several of us got together and had an open discussion about what possible relationships Happiness, Joy, Purpose, and Passion had.  In attendance was Ryan Ripley, Faye Thompson, Joe Astolfi, Jeremy Willets, and Kevin Goff.  Others dropped in from time to time as well and provided some input.  Ryan kickstarted it with a premise that focusing on pursing solely creating a happy team(s) destroy longterm joy and fulfillment.  The discussions were contained in the photo of all the stickies (semi-organized into various areas):

image1

We discussed many different things, and I’ll mostly focus on my take aways and contributions.  We’re still discussing this (primarily via twitter currently), so it’s an ever evolving concept and I am not sure we’re all in agreement yet.

Happiness was felt to be a short term thing, while Joy yielded a long term gratification. I started my (useful) input showing how happiness of a team over time can be captured via a Niko-Niko calendar and that this is useful in understanding whether a team is working well together.  Ryan still said that a happy team may not be joyous, but we did at one point all seem to agree that at some point if a team had little to no happiness occurring, then it was unlikely they would feel joy.  This got me to drawing a stacked area chart; the x-axis is time and the y-axis is the amount of joy felt by the team.  The areas that add up to this happiness (which is more volatile), passion (mildly volatile), and purpose (little volatility).

I wish we had spent more time coming to some form of agreement on Passion and what it means; I defined Passion as the collective sum of the motivations I have.  I really like the CHAMPFROGS set that Jurgen Appelo has created.  I think some of the inconsistencies showing up in our Twitter convos deals with each of us having a different mental model around passion.  These passions can change some over time.

Alignment on a purpose is also very important and alignment of this purpose with my longterm passion is also very important. It’s this latter part that gives me motivation to pursue it, yet if it is a continuous unhappy environment then I will also find it difficult to stay focused. We ultimately settled into this equation, which I wrote onto the whiteboard under the advertisement for our session:

Joy_equation

This equation states that Joy is a function of the Length of Happiness I feel multiplied in the pursuit of Purpose in addition to the Passion I bring to it.  Thus if I have little time I spend feeling happy as I pursue a purpose, then I will not feel longterm Joy.  Likewise, if I have no purpose, I also get no Joy either; this because Joy is the feeling of Fulfillment we get (Joy = Fulfillment).  Lastly, it needs to be aligned with passion as if my passion would rather pursue something else, then I likewise will have little Joy.  If we bump this from an I to a We for a team or organization, it means getting alignment on purpose and passion while having a supportive environment which increases happiness.

The important aspect to me though is the role of leadership in this; when exercising leadership, our job is to discover people’s passions, help them see how they align with a collective purpose.  It also means that I want to create this supportive environment, but not pursue short term hygenic treatments to make people happy, they need to be factors that create longterm possibilities for team members to be happy.  An example of a longer term factor would be one of safety as one would find in Anzeneering. To create Joy, leaders (which in a self-organizing team can actually be any team member)  is the application of the Antimatter Principle to attend to people’s needs.

Addition (that I forgot to mention, but it was discussed and is very relevant), Tobias Mayer has an excellent post that if you attempt to encode someone’s values, you kill that person’s spirit.  This can be true even what is being imposed is happiness; this will not create longterm Joy.