Certificate of Occupancy

Have you ever been in your building and noticed a “Certificate of Occupancy”? These gems enforce a safe occupancy number that are built around fire codes. How many people could realistically exit this building in the case of a fire? My question, as it relates to software development and Scrum Teams is; why don’t we use this same kind of approach to protecting the sustainable development pace for our team?

This came to me really quickly as our office is expanding. No matter what WE want to do, we are bound by the occupancy certificate stating that we can only fit X number of people in this building. If we violate that (and are caught) the consequences would be great with the city, but even greater if we did have a fire and were not able to get out. Part of Scrum’s role in our teams is to help us identify and stick to a constant and sustainable development pace (throughput). As such, we should have “certificates of occupancy” in place to help us legislate that rate. Most often however, we are constantly pressed by management or our Product Team to do more, regardless of the cost. Most teams are actually rewarded for their outstanding effort and exceeding their capacity. Don’t get me wrong, we want our Product Team to want the world and push us. But, what happens if you run your engine at 15,000 RPM for a long time? What happens when your CPU is at 100% capacity? What happens if the highway system is at 100% (or even more)? Things come to a screeching halt and permanent damage ensues.

People (like computers and engines) are not built to operate consistently at 100% capacity or more, and doing so has grave consequences for productivity in the long term. Helping a team become aware of their sustainable rate, and predicting delivery off of those metrics inherent in Scrum; help maintain that level of stability. The team has control over what to commit to and what to hold. The pressure is less because the backlog and roadmap are built with their sustainable pace in mind. Believe me, if you don’t give dates for delivery, someone will. So it might as well be the development team, armed with great historical evidence of their ability to deliver as well as planning deliveries based on those realities and accomplishments.

I am certainly not saying there isn’t times where we do come together and work extra hard to get things done. I’m just saying those times have to be throttled and well understood by everyone. In addition, we should be really good at what we do and have discipline and rigor in our processes. As we continuously improve and search for better ways to do things, we will be productive and increase our output within our sustainable rate.

If we wanted to have more than X people in our building, we could petition the city for a permit that would increase that number (or not). The burden of proof would be on us to indicate the value of such exercise and the safety measures we put in place to allow the increase. The point is, we just can’t arbitrarily state “we need to work harder this sprint to get Y done”. Next time it will be “Z”, “A”, and “B”. That will never go away. Put checks and balances in place to ensure when you violate the sustainable and constance pace in Scrum, that we recognize the impact of that and that we are doing it for real reasons. If you want to increase the certificate of occupancy in your backlog and sprints, do so with the team and build roadmaps based on sustainable pace. Running our engines at high RPMs should be the exception, not the rule.


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