Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Gaming the System: Sustainable Pace...

Awhile ago, Bruce Zhang raised an interesting debate about sustainable pace as tied to the number of hours a team member worked each week. He closes with the statement that it is more important to remove waste than increase work hours, and work hours are not the appropriate metric for measuring sustainable pace. (His post was inspired by another old article on InfoQ.)

I know the debate is an old topic, but related to my next post I have to weigh in.

As I understand it, the 40 hour work week is a result of the U.S. government studying Henry Ford’s assembly line factories. Ford discovered that each individual is slightly different, but the “average” manual labor worker produces the most (with quality) somewhere between 35-45 hours. This is a human limitation.

One could argue that time has passed and we are more (or less) capable due to technology. One can also argue that this would be a different set of hours for mental labor (white collar) instead of physical.

One thing I have noticed is that as Agile teams mature and truly adopt practices such as pairing and TDD, they tend to be more productive around 35 hours (as opposed to 40). I worked on a team that produced A LOT more than pre-agile, and they went from lots of overtime to normal weeks. They were burnt out by Friday at 3-4pm. They needed a good weekend of recovery to come in ready to go on Monday.

Can anyone verify the 40 hr week, Henry Ford point I believe I heard before?

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