programmer asleep at laptopI’ve had more than one person suggest to me that the short release cycles favored by agile methodologies have as much to do with encouraging developer productivity by reducing the time available as anything else. And, to be honest, I sometimes find myself asking “How can I possibly finish within the time allotted for a single sprint?” Part of the problem is that developers have a tendency to be optimistic about what they can accomplish in a given time frame, and under agile, it is up to them to set goals (e.g., during a scrum planning session) and to manage their workload. Another factor is being reluctant to report impediments (or even to see unforseen difficulties as impediments).

Of course, we know that the reason for dividing the development process up into small sprints is to manage complexity, and to create culture of continuous integration. It is actually one of the Twelve Princicples of the Agile Manifesto that develeoeepment should be sustainable. It may be fast or it may not be fast, but it should proceed at a steady pace, if at all possible. As managers and team leaders, we need to balance our own desire to deliver value to the customer (and frankly, to be paid) with supporting our developers, and dencouraging a sustainable pace. We also need to keep in mind that we need to continue delivering software in the long term. A few impressive sprints are great, and they can make for a happy business owner in the short term. But we don’t want that same person to become disillusioned when difficulties start to occur.

Fortunately, there are strategies that are helpful here. First and foremost is communication. Some problems are harder to solve than others, aand it’s important that customers and business owners be aware of this. The scrum of scrums (or whatever you call it). It is also important to make it clear that temporary setbacks or obstacles are just that – temporary. The best way to do this is through a proven track record, and that takes us right back to sustainable development.