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Agile working is most frequently perceived to be the most efficient way to develop software. When developers initially conceived the agile manifesto, the first principle emphasized that the "highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software."
Those developing the manifesto also highlighted the importance of having "regular intervals to reflect on how to become more effective then tune and adjust behavior accordingly." With this, the idea of using scrum project management to aid agile practices came to fruition.
While the term "scrum" does not refer to a specific methodology, it is the guiding framework behind most methods employed by agile teams. Most commonly, work is conducted in sprints — a defined period during which the team works on completing specific tasks. These can last anywhere from two to four weeks.
However, though scrums have proven to be remarkably effective in organizations around the world, they can also contribute to burnout. To retain your best employees and look after the well being of your team, consider the following tips for your next sprint!
1. Time management
One of the key contributing factors to burnout is an overestimation of what can be done in the allocated time. This particularly happens when non-technical people promise work to a client without knowing the technical issues that need to be battled to get the work done. There is then added pressure put on the team to deliver results in an unrealistic time span, leading team members to feel overworked, and soon, burnt out.
To prevent overpromising and worrying about underdelivering, utilize your team's technical strengths and abilities. Involve members of the technical team in the planning stages and establish a realistic timeline for project delivery from the outset, accounting for the unknown — remember, there is the potential for hundreds of things to go wrong throughout the project.
Though companies often fight to deliver a product or service in the quickest time possible to secure the bid/proposal, studies show service quality and customer satisfaction affect how long people are willing to wait.
It is also largely accepted by psychologists that uncertain waits feel longer than known, finite waits. Consequently, if it does transpire you cannot realistically provide what you promised to the deadline, it is best to explain specifically why this happened and give a renewed, realistic estimate rather than continually relaying "just one more day." This way, if you can deliver sooner than the second deadline, the customer experiences greater satisfaction than they would if you must push back the deadline for the third time. Three times is not always the charm!
2. Celebrate the wins
One commonly cited contribution to burnout is the repetitive nature of sprints — given the priority of "early and continuous delivery," it can feel as though developers are always working without room to breathe. Unlike the Waterfall model, where there is time to celebrate, the nature of scrums often means as soon as one sprint is finished, teams move immediately onto the next.
When there is a break, it is to address another principle from the Agile manifesto — "to reflect on how to become more effective." While this is undeniably a useful consideration, it still places so much focus on the project and how to always be better.
To prevent burnout, take time to celebrate what the team has achieved during the last sprint. Congratulating others in the team brings a notion of achievement and helps to boost their sense of status, in turn, improving their well being in the workplace. Ultimately, expressing how valued your team members are leads to higher quality outcomes and promotes mental well being in the process.
Identify issues in advance
Have you noticed one employee working particularly hard? During the last few sprints, you can see they have been working on projects over the weekends and in the evenings. They are getting a considerable amount done and producing an impressive workload comparative to the rest of your employees. They are an envied Rockstar!
However, while this seems great for the scrum, it is an unsustainable working pattern over a prolonged period. Further, these hours should be unnecessary if the first tip about planning well is implemented. Yet, if this is an issue that arises, it is best to identify the potential for burnout in advance and work on preventative measures. Otherwise, the alternative is risking burnout and potentially losing the employee altogether.
In this case, it may be as easy as having a chat with your employee to see how they are doing — break through the "I'm fine" monosyllabic response to openly discuss how they are really doing. Specifically, ask about their mental well being too as some people find it difficult to broach the subject naturally. This is increasingly important while remote working as it is especially hard to recognize when your employee is struggling over email or even face-to-face on a video call.
When checking in with an employee, ensure you make the place a safe space to share concerns, and offer coaching/support rather than dictating to them. It is also worth asking what they think you could do better and how you could help them to improve their work-life balance. This will help to demonstrate self-awareness while also creating a stronger working relationship.
Of course, these tips only scratch the surface when exploring the road to burnout. There are multiple factors to account for when looking to prevent it and it is important to remember the tipping point is different for everyone.