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Jun 22

40 Hour Workweeks, Sustainable Overtime, and Productivity

by Chad, Conferences, Comments Off on 40 Hour Workweeks, Sustainable Overtime, and Productivity

Jun 22

June 22, 2008

Well, last week I recovered from a month that included preparing for (and then traveling to) Oslo Norway, and then (preparing for and traveling from) the East Coast to Las Vegas NV to teach and speak for three days at the Better Software Conference. It was an amazing month, but also physically – the month from hell.

Interestingly in Las Vegas, I had the pleasure of listening to a keynote address by Mike Cohn (other keynoters included myself, Jean Tabaka, and Johanna Rothman – such amazing company 🙂 One of Mike Cohn’s slides struck home for me. Mike mentioned Kent Beck and the subject of sustainable overtime for software development teams. One of Kent’s “rules” for agile teams is to never work two consecutive weeks of overtime. The thinking is that a recovery is in order if you choose to push yourself really hard in a given week. Cohn showed a slide illustrating productivity levels when a team violated this rule. In essence, as a team pushed itself week over week, productivity only rose in that first overtime week – after that, it fell and fell and fell… even as teams pushed and pushed and pushed.

I thought about my own energy levels over the recent month, which included marathon sessions in Europe in the midst of jetlag – first six hours ahead, then a week of cramming to prepare for teaching and keynoting in Vegas, and then switching my clock 3 hours behind to teach and lecture for another week.

No wonder that after getting home from that, I felt like I was run over by a truck. I thought about one of my last talks where I talked about my friend and mentor Ed Yourdon, author of “Death March.” I once googled the term “death march projects”, and came across this photo entitled “Mike Exhausted.jpg”:


Bloodshot eyes and all, I can imagine that this “Mike” (I wonder where he works?) feels a lot like many software developers working impossible deadlines with insane overtime. I know one thing for sure – some days I also feel like this fellow looks, this day being one of them.

I imagine if I had a productivity meter strapped to my head, that it might be falling just like the chart in Mike Cohn’s slides. That being said, it’s clear that recovery is in order to get back to my usual self. It might take a while, but thinking of the last month, it took a while to get me to this level of fatigue. A fantastic burst in the short term, but not one that I can sustain over the long haul.

The root of it all? Schedule pressure. They say you teach best what you need most to learn (Read the book “Illusions” by Richard Bach).

More to come on this topic, after I get me some rest….

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