Swamped to Sustainable

I've written a lot about the concept of sustainability on this blog, and it's something I'm constantly thinking about with regards to software development.

That's why I enjoyed this recent post by Greg Kogan about being "swamped" all the time:

I used to think being swamped was a good sign. I’m doing stuff! I’m making progress! I’m important! I have an excuse to make others wait! …

Now, I’m impressed by people who are not swamped. They prioritize ruthlessly to separate what’s most important from everything else, think deeply about those most-important things, execute them well to make a big impact, do that consistently, and get others around them to do the same. Damn, that’s impressive!

Being swamped isn’t a badge of honor, it’s something to work on.

There were good comments in the discussion of the post on Hacker News, including a link to a manifesto of sorts I wasn't previously familiar with called Sustainable Development.

Sustainable Development is a set of principles for software teams to use to operate in healthy and productive ways, and for the long term.

Software teams practicing Sustainable Development follow guidelines that benefit them in three areas:

Physical: They work in ways that allows them to maintain good physical health.

Emotional: They work in an environment that supports their emotional health.

Cognitive: They work in ways that encourage creativity and support the intellectual nature of software engineering.

I could see this being used as a framing device for discussions in a sprint retrospective.

Development teams wanting to adopt Sustainable Development simply write down the practices they wish to embrace, and then commit to following them. Each practice should benefit the team in at least one of the three areas of sustainability (physical, emotional, or cognitive).

It's often hard getting people to speak productively in retros, and I feel like a good place to start is asking the question to the group: What did we do in this last sprint that doesn't seem sustainable? What can we do to increase the sustainability of our sprints? The suggested sample practices could give the group some ideas on action items to work toward greater sustainability.

I hope every team can agree that swamped is not sustainable.