Agile Practice and Work-Life Balance
Do you really believe that adopting agile practices will help you achieve work life balance?
One of the principles behind agile manifesto hints that it is possible:
“…Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely…”
However, the real world is different. We live in a world where we have an obsession with “Growth” … obsession with “Achieving more with less” … obsession with “Goal orientation” … obsession with “Stretch target”. To this you add the fast pace of change in everything around us – you will find that status quo is something which is very difficult to maintain.
Couple of days back I received a mail from Hema and here is an extract from that mail:
“…. I am a big believer in Agile and have been looking for companies that do real agile and have good work life balance. Do they exist or should women just move out of IT industry if they want work life balance if they care a lot about their kids? Are some roles better suited than others?…”
Many of you may echo this same sentiment … may ask the same questions. So, where do we look for an answer?
Assumptions contained in this statement
There are several assumptions inherent in that statement.
- Adoption of true agile will lead to work-life balance
- IT industry suffers more from work life imbalance than many other sectors
- For a specific organization, work-life balance or imbalance will be uniform across
- Work-life imbalance is role specific
- This problem is specific for women
Are all these assumptions true?
Main reasons of work-life imbalance
In my opinion, the single reason which leads to work-life imbalance is when somebody (it may even be you) makes a commitment which cannot be fulfilled without putting in extra effort from your side – and you are not ready to face the consequence of not meeting the commitment.
The reason of why you cannot meet the commitment can be several. The commitment was made…
- …without an understanding of the complexity involved
- …in a competitive situation where the options was to either accept the deal with the given conditions or walk out of it
- …without considering the impact on other commitments already made
- …assuming a team composition, which for some reason cannot be realized – either people have left or you cannot find suitable people
- …from the top with the assumption that certain percentage improvement to status quo needs to be done
- … was derived from some higher level goal and handed down as given
Will adopting agile solve this problem? I really doubt it.
What can you do to avoid such situation?
The problem is not restricted to IT alone – neither is it limited to certain roles. Even if you are a school teacher you might find that you have been handed out with responsibilities which go much beyond teaching.
Agile practice, by itself, is unlikely to help you achieve work-life balance. Given today’s business environment it may even make it worse.
Here are few suggestions which may work. Though, I should warn you that our world has become complex enough and competitive enough to ensure that you need to run fast to stay at the same place.
- Learn to say “NO”. There is lot of stuff written on how to say no – just do Google it. Many people believe that Steve Jobs succeeded because he could say no – Steve Jobs: Get Rid of the Crappy Stuff.
- Learn to “Slow Down”. Did you know there is something called “Slow Movement”? There is even a Wikipedia page on slow movement.
- If you are still confused about what you want to do read this book – What Should I Do With My Life? Remember one gentleman called William Henry “Bill” Gates – he just walked out from the most successful company at that time which he had built from scratch.
There are consequence to “saying no”, “slowing down” and “changing your career”.
Be clear that you understand those.
[Update (January 2012): Here are two interesting HBR articles]