Rushing Never Saves Time: Kicking the Corrosive Habit of Overcommitment

You know that feeling at the office when someone says, "Sheesh, I am just soooo underloaded. Nothing but time on my hands"? Of course you don't. But you are far too familiar with the opposite. We talk about burning the candle at both ends and crunch time, being slammed or drowning. We get burned out, amass tech debt, carry stories over, sometimes miss deadlines, and leave ourselves little if any time to improve our products. It's not like we can't see it coming: if we are honest with ourselves, we know we are trying to do more than is feasible. Yet we do it anyway. It's bad enough if we make the choice for ourselves, but what about the people who look to us as examples? What about the culture we influence?

In this talk, we'll explore the endemic phenomenon of overcommitment. We'll talk about the many places and ways it appears, its known and hidden costs, and why we keep doing it. Then we'll talk about concrete ways to start digging our way out and helping others do the same. I believe passionately that kicking the corrosive habit of overcommitment is a crucial step in improving our teams, organizations, and customer outcomes, as well as our own lives. I hope you will join me.

 
 

Outline/Structure of the Talk

  • Overcommitment is Everywhere
    • Define overcommitment
    • Reviewing examples:
      • Teams overloading sprints
      • Tech debt and dirty dishes
      • Sleep, exercise, and flossing
      • Teams supporting too many products
      • Scope creep
      • Break into small groups and come up with other examples from their lives
  • The Many Costs of Overcommitment
    • Falling behind on sleep, exercise, flossing
    • Break into small groups to list out other impacts of overcommitment
    • Large group review of key points: the drag of tech debt; unhappy team; unhappy stakeholders/customers
    • Discussing the hidden costs: inefficiencies caused by overhead; not truly going back to improve products; undermining organization's ability to plan and make good decisions.
  • Why do We Keep Overcommitting?
    • Small group discussion: Why do we overcommit?
    • Large group review of key points: internal desire to achieve; implicit/explicit external pressure; poor understanding of the costs; failure to adjust to new information.
  • How Can We Kick the Habit of Overcommitting?
    • Collection of techniques (large and small, varied contexts):
      • Test drive a feasible day; reflect on how to extend what you learned
      • Note and call out red flag words/phrases: "have to", "no choice", "not realistic", "in an ideal world"
      • Less with less: adjusting scope downward when faced with less time/fewer people
      • Handling midstream changes gracefully
      • Not "how long will it take?", but "what *version* can we build given our constraints?"
      • One-at-a-time sprint planning
      • Strict adherence to Scrum rule that the team decides how much work to take on
      • Creating a bubble of sustainability
      • Taking no for an answer
      • Etc.
  • Call to Action
    • Notice overcommitment
    • Take small steps to kick the habit
    • Individual activity: what one little step do will you take?

Learning Outcome

Attendees will leave with:

  • a greater awareness of how widespread overcommitment is;
  • a stronger sense of the many costs of overcommitment;
  • a deeper understanding of why we persistently overcommit; and
  • concrete steps for avoiding overcommitment and helping others do the same.

Target Audience

Applies to everyone

Prerequisites for Attendees

No prerequisites.

schedule Submitted 7 months ago

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