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Agile in a Command-and-Control Organization : What to do when upper management forces overtime?

Image by MyLifeStoryMy colleague François Perron launched a very interesting discussion on our private wiki – “As a coach, what to do when executives and upper management force the project team to do over time in order to meet deadlines?”.

As you can probably guess, this initiated very interesting discussions and an obvious reaction to such an approach.

Everyone agreed that due to the project visibility and the position of the organization within its market, the project launch date was critical. Everyone also understood that the organization had very few options so nobody debated the need to achieve results. The discussion was strictly around which measures to use in an Agile context.

I’ll admit up front that I am biased toward intrinsic motivation (I really loved Drive by Dan Pink) and the fact that it is well suited for an agile environment.

As such, my first impression to the conversation that was going on were:

  • Does the organization wish that employees spend more hours at the office (attendance) or would they prefer more engagement (commitment)?
  • If their choice is to increase the hours of attendance, imposing overtime will achieve this goal while giving them a false sense of increased performance. People will show they are working longer hours but the real throughput is unlikely to be much higher. In addition, software development is a brain intensive activity and reducing the amount of rest people get is likely to increase the number of mistakes they make.
  • On the contrary, if the organization wanted more involvement, the inclusion of team members in determining the best way to achieve the results would probably come to a better decision – even possibly leading the willingness to do over time

It appears to me that by forcing overtime, the executives and senior managers will probably collect their bonus and congratulate each others in the short term only to realize in the longer term that they have simply pushed the problem forward for others to deal with – and possibly request more over time in the long run.

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