The PM Podcast


Project Management for Beginners and Experts

Episode 323: Agile Burnout - How to Avoid Fatigue on Your Agile Team (Premium)

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Kim Wasson
Kim Wasson. Author, Speaker & PM Consultant.

Do you use an Agile project management approach? And have you maybe noticed a certain fatigue -- an Agile burnout, a Scrum burnout in your team?

Well, Agile is indeed an excellent methodology that is responsive to business changes with quick turnaround and highly visible results. But at the same time, the pace of a project using Agile is relentless. It never seems to stop and this is potentially one of the biggest agile project management issues that the team may face. Unlike Waterfall there are very few built-in times for team members to catch their collective breath and celebrate milestones.

This Scrum burnout was the basis of the article Agile Fatigue written by Kim Wasson https://www.linkedin.com/in/kimwasson. It’s a relatively short article that contains some good tips on how to combat this effect. So in our interview just now we are going to talk about the following symptoms:

  • Burnout
  • Meandering
  • Stagnation
  • The daily stand-up turns into a grind
  • A secret move back to waterfall

But more importantly, we discuss what to do about them in order to battle the burnout.

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

Podcast Introduction

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to Episode #323. This is the Project Management Podcast™ at www.pm-podcast.com and I'm Cornelius Fichtner.

And of course, here is a very warm welcome to you. You are one of our Premium listeners and this episode was recorded especially for you. Thank for you for being a subscriber.

Do you use an Agile project management approach? And have you maybe noticed a certain fatigue and Agile burnout, a Scrum burnout in your team? Well, Agile is indeed an excellent methodology that is responsive to business changes with quick turnaround and highly visible results. But at the same time, the pace of a project using Agile is relentless. It never seems to stop and this is potentially one of the biggest Agile project management issues that the team may face.

Unlike Waterfall, there are very few built-in times for team members to catch their collective breath and celebrate milestones. This Scrum burnout was the basis of the article: Agile Fatigue, written by Kim Wasson. It's a relatively short article that contains some good tips on how to combat this effect.

So in our interview, we are going to extensively talk about the following symptoms: Burnout, meandering, stagnation, when the daily standup turns into a grind and a secret move back to Waterfall. But more importantly, we're not only going to discuss them but we're going to be discussing what to do about them in order to battle the burnout.

And now, please stop yawning. Enjoy the interview.

Podcast Interview

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello, Kim! Welcome back to The Project Management Podcast™.

Kim Wasson: Thank you so much! Glad to be here again.

Cornelius Fichtner: We want to talk about Agile fatigue and allow me to ask a somewhat lighthearted tongue and cheek and maybe even not question: Isn't it blasphemous to write something negative about Agile project management and talk about Agile fatigue. Aren't you afraid you're going to be burned at the stake here?

Kim Wasson: Well, you noticed that I did do it. I posted it as a guest blog at my own. Yes, it does. You know my life because of project management is a series of post-mortems. I know that there are retrospectives in Agile talk. But for me, I dissect everything. You know if something's not working, I want to know why and I want to know how to fix it. So I actually have a CIO of a company that I work with who always introduces me as "This is Kim Chi, the one who throws a skunk on the table." And that's me. This is skunk on the Agile table, yeah.

Cornelius Fichtner: Okay! So the article is titled "Agile Fatigue." How did the article come about?

Kim Wasson: I have then working now as a consultant for about 10 years and I have been on some long-term projects. I've done multiple long-term projects and now I'm coaching and I started to see it on my own projects and then I started to see it on the projects of some of the people I was coaching.It's kind of ugly and it's very, very understandable but we don’t make any allowances for it. And so I wanted to address it. I wanted to throw that skunk out there on the table and see if we can get to a point because we don’t want Agile to go by the way side. It's a great process. It addresses so many of the problems of the old development processes but it's a living, breathing thing and you got to fix the things that are popping up. You don’t see this until someone's on a project long term.

Cornelius Fichtner: Okay. So in the article, you described a number of symptoms that all go along with Agile fatigue and we want to review those and of course more importantly what to do about them. The first one you mentioned is burnout.

Kim Wasson: Yes, yes. Burnout is a huge problem. The thing with Agile is it just keeps coming at you. There's always the next iteration, the next sprint is coming at you.

Cornelius Fichtner: Right, it's 2 weeks end of iteration. Next iteration starts tomorrow and it just keeps going and going and going, yeah.

Kim Wasson: There's no break. When you do Waterfall, there's that horrible crunch at the end but then you celebrate. You feel you have accomplished something. You take a break. You learn something new before you really dive into your next project and you regenerate a little bit. And we don’t have the chance to do that in Agile unless we make allowances for it. The pace is just so unrelenting.

So what to do about it? What I try to do to combat it is we've talked before about team goals. Set team goals. What do you want to accomplish as a team? Let the whole team be part of that. Publicize it and then when you reach it, celebrate. And that can be as simple as we want to hit the story points on the head. We want to be done the last day of the sprint and we want it to be perfect and if we hit that, we're going to have a party. It can be that simple. It can be as big as we're going to have a major release of our product go out and we're going to stop and celebrate when that goes out. But make them and absolutely celebrate, big and small.

If you can, move people. If you're in a company that has more than one Agile team, move people around. Like a lot of the things that I talked about in the blog post, it seems kind of counterintuitive. It seems like you're going to slow down your pace. It seems like it's not really a good thing to do. But in the long term in a bigger picture, it's going to improve your project. It's going to improve the people. It's going to improve your velocity because people aren't going to be burnt out. So if you can, move people among the teams even if it's just for a sprint or 2 sprints. They get a different viewpoint. The other team gets a different viewpoint. They'll bring stuff back and it just helps that entrenchment. It helps some remember why it is they like to do this.

And this is another thing that seems really counterproductive. But set a periodic down sprint. Figure out how often you're going to do it. Maybe it's once a quarter. You have 2 weeks where people get to go investigate new things or take a class or even it's a good time, people have PTO. They can actually go out and realize that they are not missing anything. They're not going to come back to a big stack on their desk. Whatever it is, but set it down iteration.

Or if that's just politically impossible which sometimes it is, rotate the down iteration from person to person. Everybody gets a chance on a rotating basis to have a down iteration where they go learn something new or whatever it is that they do and not assigned to other things in that iteration. So that's sprint. So they are not worried about falling behind and your velocity kind of straightens itself out really quickly when you do that because it's always one person who's off investigating new technologies that might be of use in your project or whatever it is that they are doing. But you can see it. You can see the people. They are not excited. They look downtrodden. They seem tired. People are sick more. Those are all signs of burnout.

Cornelius Fichtner: The second symptom of Agile fatigue that you mentioned is meandering. Are we talking about people just walking around the office here?

Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only. Please subscribe to our Premium Podcast to receive a PDF transcript.

Tags: PDUs: Technical Project Management, Project Human Resources Management, Agile

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Cornelius Fichtner, PMP
I'm on a polar cruise!
From June 01 - June 20 I will be on vacation.
This means that the next episode of The PM Podcast will be published after my return. Probably on June 23 or 24. Have a great month!