Does high velocity lead to burnout? That may be the wrong question to ask.

In a webinar we did with Liberty Mutual, we explored the right way to create “excessive velocity” groups and maintain them. It was an amazing exploration round morale, instruments, and different methods we will arrange of us to verify groups output the highest quality work they will. Although response to particular person factors was constructive, the general message was overshadowed by a semi-recurring sentiment: a high-velocity workforce means individuals are burning out. 

Most tenured of us most likely have expertise with an overbearing boss or venture supervisor cracking the whip, following an outdated and drained pattern of getting extra hours out of builders at any value to maneuver the needle just some notches extra. Nevertheless it doesn’t need to be this fashion, actually I might say it shouldn’t be this fashion in case you are planning for a secure workforce with excessive morale that may persistently ship.

What do you imply, “excessive velocity?”

As a lot as I hate how these discussions devolved into semantics at instances, there’s something we have now to get out of the best way: what the heck will we even imply after we say “excessive velocity?” Velocity is often used to outline the variety of factors accomplished, or effort expended, inside a workforce in a sure interval, normally known as a dash. For higher or worse, totally different groups give you alternative ways to outline these factors and measure them. Nevertheless, the preferred method tends to be of us on the product facet give you work that’s framed out with clear standards, after which devs as a bunch “dimension” this work with how a lot effort they suppose it’s going to take with a quantity we name story factors. So the work is deliberate, builders measure how a lot work they suppose it is going to be with a quantity (story factors), and the sum of the variety of factors within the work they full in an interval is their velocity. 

Within the easiest phrases: velocity is how a lot work builders suppose they received performed primarily based on estimates previously. And we at all times need output to be “excessive,” proper? A “excessive velocity” needs to be an excellent factor, proper?

Proper?

“Inform me the way you measure me, and I’ll let you know how I’ll behave”

Eli Goldratt

That relies upon. Does this imply excessive in comparison with two weeks in the past? Excessive in comparison with the opposite groups in your group? How will we even measure velocity precisely with out it changing into simply one other metric that’s gamed? I have usually talked at length about my love/hate relationship with velocity and specializing in developer enablement, and my opinion has largely been unchanged for a few decade. The obsession with this (comparatively) arbitrary quantity skews the worth we’re creating when it turns into your solely aim:

  • Attempting to match the speed of a number of groups to see which is best? Completely different merchandise, dynamics, ability units, exterior and inner components, and many others. all play a component, and it’s not possible to precisely examine.
  • Attempting to point out enhancements to single workforce efficiency by rising velocity solely? Then you might be solely making the strain increased and better for folks to compete in opposition to who they had been two weeks in the past. The motivation to alternate between sandbagging and crunch mode simply rises.
  • And in virtually any state of affairs, any metric that’s within the arms of these you might be measuring by sizing and grooming will simply be tweaked to match no matter you might be positively reinforcing; there is no such thing as a motive to not make one thing that was 2 factors now 3 factors, then 4 factors, and many others simply to make the quantity look higher. In any case, increased velocity is best.

With out fail when velocity alone turns into the aim, you hear two issues talked about much less and fewer: high quality and morale. These two issues don’t get measured precisely as a result of it’s onerous and it’s not handy with our new, unhealthy laser deal with numbers. When velocity turns into the one aim, high quality as a measure begins to really feel like judging a runner after they’ve completed the race. 

Then the hedging and compromising begin. People will start to rationalize the lengthy tiresome hours to justify the numbers getting larger on a spreadsheet. Then, as we alluded to at first, the inevitable burnout begins. All workforce members, not simply builders, start to understand they aren’t making good selections; they’re going down the improper path however this arbitrary velocity quantity is the one defining what is true or improper. 

“What will get measured will get managed — even when it’s pointless to measure and handle it, and even when it harms the aim of the group to take action”

Peter Drucker

After some time, after we are now not in a position to ignore it, we have now to have the discuss all of those missed deliveries, rising bugs, and low morale on the workforce. Many will discuss shopping for instruments, altering platforms, or having an ice cream get together to lift morale. However the one factor nobody dare carry up: Possibly we have to change instructions? Or much more sacrilegious: Possibly we have now been measuring this improper all alongside?

For lots of oldsters, this may get head nodding; loads of of us have been, or are nonetheless struggling, in locations with that mindset. Other people who haven’t needed to put up with this, it seems like a nightmare and virtually fantastical in its silliness and backwards considering. However it’s actual and value acknowledging that when leaders discuss being “excessive velocity,” there’s baggage that comes with it. I’ve little question the commenters on that webinar alluding to burnout have been victims of this reductionist mindset. This is the reason I’ve performed away with the “excessive velocity” moniker for a workforce and caught with one thing that’s extra broad, but in addition way more correct to what we wish to have: “properly performing.”

What do you imply, “properly performing?”

I do know what you might be considering; it’s the identical factor my co-workers mentioned after I informed them this was my new most popular time period: “You’re saying the identical factor, however with totally different phrases. Your misdirection gained’t work!” 

Sleight of hand makes an attempt apart, I’m not saying the identical factor. I’m a workforce in a complete totally different method with out utilizing a single quantity to measure workforce efficiency and well being. Listed below are the components I search for in a properly performing workforce, and the indicators that may let me know the workforce wants consideration or if they’re wholesome. 

Take a look at velocity, however not the way you suppose.

The weirdest method for me to share recommendation on how to not let velocity run your workforce’s life is to start out by speaking about velocity, however my level is about how folks use it as a device incorrectly. Excessive or low velocity doesn’t imply success or failure, it’s an indicator. If a workforce has had sharply rising velocity for the previous three sprints, the very last thing it’s best to do is sit again and suppose “Effectively, the workforce is doing its job and my work right here is completed.” You simply had knowledge level to one thing going very proper in your workforce and it’s worthwhile to discover out why, that is when the true work as a pacesetter begins.

Have of us been pairing or divvying up tales in a method that works higher for them? Are they displaying a sure affinity for sorts or tales or a part of the venture they’re in? Had been we extra precisely estimating tales? Maybe it was a false constructive, they had been simply severely underestimating tales, or any variety of variables to discover. 

This goes for decrease velocity as properly: you need to discover out why. It could possibly be individuals are out sick, some tales had been very unclear, or one thing extra extreme like a lack of workforce imaginative and prescient or morale dropping. Discover out if there’s something it’s best to recreate and maintain (and even higher, unfold to different groups), or determine and mitigate, after which observe. These knowledge factors are telling you one thing, so it’s best to hear. Simply bear in mind it isn’t telling you success or failure. 

Clearly set expectations, and the workforce delivers on them.

Numerous of us like to make use of the time period “predictable,” however that may be a bit imprecise and imply a whole lot of various things. It additionally has the connotation of timelines and dates, that are affected by so many variables exterior of a dev workforce; it’s best to by no means give somebody duty for one thing they don’t have management over. 

I favor the time period “expectations” over predictable as a result of expectations can change, shift, or be utterly reset and the workforce can nonetheless be utterly wholesome so long as it’s clear why it’s occurring. Typically groups can’t be predictable as a result of they’re in an unpredictable business or org, however expectations can nonetheless be clear.

A big firm I labored for was obsessive about predictability as a measure of workforce success. The workforce would make estimates on work that will come their method, and if they didn’t ship on that timeline persistently, the workforce was failing. So naturally the groups added a whole lot of buffer as a result of being “on time” was what we had been reinforcing, not high quality, agility, or the rest that will ship extra worth. Then the pendulum swung the opposite method, groups had been criticized for taking too lengthy for initiatives, however nonetheless anticipated to make an estimate and honor it as a promised dedication. Morale shrunk, defensiveness rose, and ensuring it was another person’s fault turned a necessary job ability. 

Alternatively, how I handle groups right here at Stack Overflow is round expectations. Once we analysis work to do, we all know that we have no idea all the pieces. We create an setting the place that’s okay so long as we talk round it and acknowledge the place issues are fuzzy or unclear to keep away from surprises for our stakeholders. It additionally units reprioritization as a wholesome factor. If we’re engaged on one thing with clear expectations, however then one thing else pops up that’s excessive precedence, resetting expectations is okay. Engaged on two issues in parallel or placing one thing else on the backburner is okay and a alternative everybody could make collectively. We count on the workforce to determine the affect, share execs and cons, and let our stakeholders make the choice they suppose finest. Timelines will change, however the workforce remains to be delivering on what they mentioned they may; regardless that some would name that “unpredictable.”

Workforce morale is excessive, and they’re counting on each other.

So far as I do know, for the reason that inception of improvement (and placing these builders on groups collectively) of us have by no means labored higher when they’re confused, not sure, or distracted. This sounds apparent to some and maybe too delicate to others, however a excessive workforce morale pays dividends in each different space that they function. That is the place checking in with workforce members and asking how they’re doing is one thing that needs to be normalized. You must also create a secure place for them to say they don’t seem to be okay. If they’re confused from work or private life, they won’t do their finest work, and it turns into your duty as a pacesetter to mitigate it finest you possibly can. The very last thing you need is for folk to be depressing and take it out on their teammates; that is how morale vampires are created.

One of the best ways you can also make this an sincere and fruitful dialog is by main by instance. Although I are usually an upbeat individual, there are days the place I’m not doing properly and I share it with of us. This opens the door for reciprocation, not simply with you however with the entire workforce. Numerous of us have discovered having well being checks with the entire workforce to kick off workforce conferences to point out a shared funding in of us’ wellbeing (although I personally have had blended success with it). From there, we see foks caught on work duties asking for assist with out reservation and folks keen to assist. We share celebrations of our successes in addition to duty for our issues. 

“It’s improper to suppose that in case you can’t measure it, you possibly can’t handle it.”

W. Edwards Deming

We see the distinction in these approaches, however whereas one is extraordinarily expensive, I gained’t fake the opposite is ideal. There has by no means been a convincing argument for outlining a workforce by velocity solely apart from to place groups and other people in handy containers so managers have the phantasm of management and affect in additional acquainted methods. 

However there’s nonetheless a wrestle in managing a workforce with the components I laid out: a whole lot of it’s subjective. There isn’t any numerical worth for morale, there are methods to take advantage of or recreation expectation setting the identical as timelines, and different methods usually are not as handy because the black and white of a velocity quantity. 

And that’s why management is difficult. The group you’re employed for and the folks you handle are trusting you to do what’s finest for them each, and a whole lot of it’s going to come all the way down to how properly you possibly can perceive an issue and provides of us clear path on how it is going to be solved. There isn’t any common playbook for this, and folk that attempt to fake like there’s find yourself with folks complaining about how of us use velocity to burn folks out.

Tags: burnout, metrics, velocity

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