Project Management

Can Agile Teams Get Burned Out?

Bob Galen is the President and Principal Consultant of RGCG, L.L.C. a Cary, N.C.-based agile methods coaching & training consultancy. He is a deeply experienced Agile & Certified Scrum Coach (CSC) who is active in the agile community and regularly writes & teaches on all topics related to the agile methods. Bob has written two agile related books: Scrum Product Ownership, a definitive work surrounding agile product ownership, and Agile Reflections, which is focused toward mature agile patterns. He can be reached at [email protected] and join his mailing list at

My my, hey hey
Rock and roll is here to stay
It's better to burn out
Than to fade away
My my, hey hey.

--Neil Young, “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)”

Well, I like the song, but don’t agree with the limited options Neil presents. I think there is something between burning out and fading away.

One of the core principles of agility is the notion of “sustainable pace”. It originated in the Extreme Programming community. Initially, in the first edition of the Extreme Programming book by Kent Beck, it was defined or framed by the principle of a 40-hour workweek.

I vividly recall managers at the time railing against the notion as a clear example that these agile maniacs were out of touch with business reality, out of control and looking for an easy path at work. What could possibly be next--working from home?

In the second edition of XP Explained, Kent Beck softened the message a bit and dropped the (n) hours recommendation. Nonetheless (and thankfully), the notion of sustainable pace has remained as one of the core agile principles--although there does appear to be an increasing de-emphasis of it within today’s agile teams.

Back to the Question…
Can agile teams--solid agile teams who are high performing, for that matter--“burn out”? The answer is yes. In fact, I’ve seen the …

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- Groucho Marx