Burnout and deadlines

Yesterday, Ruben Ortega came and led an interesting discussion on burnout, deadlines, death marches, physiology, culture and more. We had a great talk, including our own experiences with burnout and lots of deep information about it. Here are some notes:

  • Nearly all of us had some personal experience with burnout; in some cases with physical and health-related effects.
  • Despite all the literature (all the way back to Mythical Man Month or even Deming) and popularity of agile practices, burnout still happens.
  • Slogging through a hellish time and coming out successful in the end makes us feel good and makes for good stories; in fact that’s the root of most of our myths and entertainment.
  • People who regularly overwork themselves develop physical impulses to continue to produce neuropeptides that encourage them to continue to overwork. This can take years of dedicated work to change and can be akin to countering addiction.
  • Startups often include periods of over work at the beginning
    • In fact “startup” implies this in a way that “small business” doesn’t
    • This creates an early culture of overwork and, if you want to change that, may mean major cultural shift early in the company (i.e. replacing much of the staff)
    • While tech startups are often started by engineers who want to work with the best engineers they know (and therefore hire them); if a startup will require a lot of work up front (because time is critical) then this argues strongly for contractors
  • In a business whether you choose to overwork people or have “work-life balance” is a business decision
    • If you are looking for an early exit and value profit over people then you might choose to overwork people to increase short-term gain
    • If you are interested in a long-term investment, then investing in people (and not burning them out) is clearly better
    • However, this was a rhetorical discussion as we all prefered long-term investments in people.


Burnout and deadlines