Sunday, August 1, 2010

Working Yourself Stupid

"Ability to contribute over the standard 40 hour work week if deemed necessary by management but more importantly thru self motivation when extra time is required to get the job complete."
This line came from a job posting I saw the other day which made me chuckle a little.  At first I was a little shocked to see that a company almost requires overtime (I'm assuming it's not an hourly paid job) but then I thought, at least they're being honest.

So why would that be so shocking?  Well, where I'm currently working we're trying to be agile (well, most of us anyway) using a combination of Scrum & XP and one of the practices we've tried to follow is sustainable pace.

In a nutshell, sustainable pace is finding the right amount of hours people should work without ever burning out.  This provides, amongst others, a few benefits such as:
  • Little to no burnout
  • More accurate estimates
  • Employee job satisfaction
Right now I'm happy to report that I generally don't have to worry about working crazy hours to get things done in my department and I think we've been reaping the rewards as well.  There was one time where we deviated from this principle and paid for it in the end.

What happened was we were getting behind on some defects that needed to be sorted out and so we decided to take a few weeks to put in some extra hours to pound the defects through.  We worked hard on them and at first it really seemed to be making a difference as the defect count went down quite a bit.  Satisfied that we had beaten back the beast, some people laid low to recover from the push and a month later, we were back to where we were before with the number of items that needed to be worked on.  We have since tried to be a little more selective with what we work on so that we get the most bang for our buck rather than trying to brute force our way through things.

Now, I'm not saying that ALL overtime is bad.  There are times where working a few hours here or there can prevent last minute problems from happening, etc. but be prepared for the time needed to recover from that extra push.  Taking that time to recover can be hard to do as well as everyone likes to be a hero and putting in that extra time sure looks good to management.  But if you burn yourself out to the point where you're not worth much, you won't look so good anymore.  Be honest with yourself.  Be realistic.  Plan better next time.

If you happen to work for the company that the job posting came from or you are currently working somewhere that requires extra hours, have a look at this (very, very interesting read) and plead your case to management.  Worst thing they can do is say no and then you can make a decision from there.