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 July 2019

The Berlin Scrum User Group meets on July 4th at agile42, Gruenberger Str. 54, 10245 Berlin.

Image of aballer

Alexandra Baller

agile42 Team Assistant

Leading a Logistics Provider Company Agile Transformation

agile42 Turkey helped implement an agile way of working in the IT department of an international Leading logistics provider company

Image of figen.yalcinkaya

Figen Yalçınkaya

Nowadays companies need to know agile principle for their sustainable development. As an agile trainer & coach; I support new agile teams, for developing agile mindset in order to achieve high performance. This includes challenging their working practices and embarking on continuous improvement, Which is main principle of agility.

ORGANIC agility at Fast Growth Icons Berlin 2019

Video of the Fast Growth Icons Berlin 2019 keynote by Andrea Tomasini

Image of marion

Marion Eickmann

I am one of the founders and the executive director at agile42. I have supported strategic product development and leadership development for longer than 15 years. Since 2007 I have been realizing local and global agile projects with agile42's international team successfully. You like to talk about: ORGANIC agility, complexity, resilience, organizational culture & Agile? Just send an email :-)

Empiricism and Psychology: The harmony of being at odds

In this post, the contrast between empiricism and psychology is briefly discussed

Image of elrich.faul

Elrich Faul

I’m passionate about helping the current and next generations to develop the skills they need to be successful in a rapidly changing world. I believe that by leveraging my expertise in engineering, psychology and management I can empower individuals and teams to reach their maximum potential. I’m inspired when given the opportunity to coach teams as well as individuals toward growth and happiness.

Why you should look out for the ORGANIC agility Conference?

ORGANIC agility is an evolutionary approach that offers organizations the opportunity to become adaptable, resilient and profoundly more effective ...

Image of hwong

Hazel Wong

Marketing Assistant at agile42. Passionate about gaining insights from data in order to create content that resonates with the audience. Eager to help teams and companies open their mindset about the application of agile methods to address their challenges.