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…

  1. …without an understanding of the complexity involved
  2. …in a competitive situation where the options was to either accept the deal with the given conditions or walk out of it
  3. …without considering the impact on other commitments already made
  4. …assuming a team composition, which for some reason cannot be realized – either people have left or you cannot find suitable people
  5. …from the top with the assumption that certain percentage improvement to status quo needs to be done
  6. … 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.

  1. 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.
  2. Learn to “Slow Down”. Did you know there is something called “Slow Movement”? There is even a Wikipedia page on slow movement.
  3. 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.

Finally…

Here is an interesting report from McKinsey titled Changing companies’ minds about women or see this link. So, there is some hope for women. However, things are not changing very fast, so …

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]

Udayan Banerjee on Google+
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Comments
3 Responses to “Agile Practice and Work-Life Balance”
  1. Neeraj Vashisht says:

    I do agree on your views Sir, alongwith it, here are the few point,

    1) Its IT which gives the freedom to do the work while enjoying with the family. It’s we, who have to decide how to leverage the independence and freedom provided by IT. Lets be thankful to IT.

    2) To support the point 2 in “What can you do to avoid such situation?”
    its good to know your capabilities and learn the good things, implement and be consistent with it and when you belive that you achieve the consistency and manage the time well, then jump to new goal, that will help.

    3) Know yourself and Manage yourself to say “No”, otherwise other will manage you and then accept it.

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