Oct. 9, 2018

Exhaustion is Not a Status Symbol

Leverage the agile values to mitigate the risks of exhaustion becoming a status symbol

In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Brene Brown shares her 10 Guideposts of Wholehearted Living. Number 7 on that list is “Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth”. This resonates strongly with the 8th agile principle about sustainable pace. 

In the world of Scrum software development, it is all too easy to get caught up in pumping out user stories and increasing velocity sprint after sprint, but what does that type of hamster wheel mentality do to us physically, mentally, and spiritually? For that matter, what impact does it have on our products? Are we building fast things, or the right things? Are we making time to dream up big, new ideas and/or to build a cohesive team around our mission? 

Exhaustion Not A Status Symbol Poster.png

“I didn’t leave work until 8pm.”

“I missed my daughter’s dance recital for this project.”

“I’ve been pulling 16 hour days for 2 weeks straight.” 

“I can’t believe she left as 5:30pm. I was still here for 3 more hours!”

“We’re going to make this sprint goal if it kills us.”

There is danger when exhaustion becomes a status symbol -- for our organizational culture, our teams, and ourselves. There are specific risks of inadvertently creating a competitive exhausted culture within an agile transformation, and ways in which we can leverage the agile values and principles in order to mitigate those risks. We have to take the time to look inward, assessing our own attitudes and views about work life balance. 

The 8th agile principle says: “Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely."

Work-life balance is a buzzword that we throw around, but how often does the culture of an organization support exactly the opposite? Hero culture is rewarded, and our output is viewed as a measure of our worth on performance reviews. We set out to transform the world of work with agile and with Scrum;yet I’ve heard the Scrum sprint cycle described as a “hamster wheel” -an endless conveyor belt of backlog and sprint reviews that the developers cannot escape. This is not congruent with what we read in the agile values and principles. 

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Take the time to discuss what sustainable pace means for your team
  • Develop working agreements that address sustainable pace
  • Embrace estimation as a method to empower the team
  • Treat Sprints as a heartbeat, not a constant death march
  • Not only avoid but reject the hero culture
  • Speak up as team members and leaders
  • Evaluate the organizational processes and structures

I’m interested in inspiring a discussion about the pitfalls of a competitive exhausted culture, and how we in the Scrum community, even with the best of intentions, could be “accidentally responsible” for continuing to spin the hamster wheel. Although hero culture has been discussed before, if we have addressed our own potential culpability in creating it.  We need to make sure that the principles and practices of Scrum are being used for good, not for evil. 


If you are interested in learning how to create a sustainable pace for yourself, your team, and your organization, join me at the 2018 Toronto Agile Community Conference on Oct 30th for my talk on “Exhaustion is not a Status Symbol”. Explore how Scrum practices, used properly, can enable a sustainable pace.

Image of melissa.boggs

Melissa Boggs

blog comments powered by Disqus
Image of melissa.boggs

Melissa Boggs

Latest Posts

Scrumtisch of December 2018

Report from the December 2018 meeting of Berlin Scrumtisch

Image of simsab

Simon Sablowski

Simon has spent several years working as a software developer, ScrumMaster and CTO. He is dedicated to shortening feedback loops to accelerate learning and strengthening team collaboration to maximise synergies. At agile42, Simon enjoys coaching and training teams and organisations that desire to attain higher productivity, continuous innovation and extraordinary performance.

Meet the Coach: Cliff Hazell

We talk with Cliff Hazell, the latest addition to the agile42 team of coaches in Sweden

Image of abragad

Alessio Bragadini

Web community manager of agile42, trying to post relevant, informational, fun bits of content on the blog and social networks

Don't Panic Series (Part 1): What is culture?

If you don’t understand culture and what culture is, how do you expect to change it?

Image of melissa.boggs

Melissa Boggs

Image of davesharrock

Dave Sharrock

Agile coach passionate about getting things done; helping teams exceed expectations, delivering organizational excellence, and all while having fun doing what they do.

Leadership in an Agile Context: Preview of our Don't Panic series

For organizations that want to become agile, cultural change is not an option but a necessity. 

Image of agile42

agile42

News and views from the Headquarter of the agile42 team

How to spice up your SCRUM using Improv?

Unplanned and unscripted - important lessons that your Scrum team can learn from Improv.

Image of sdhillon

Sunny Dhillon