Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Maxwell Curve: Getting more production by working less!


Recently I was coaching teams at OpenView Venture Partners and Scott Maxwell, the founding partner, jumped up and said, “Jeff, I want to show you the Maxwell Curve! Here is what we have learned by running Scrum internally with teams of venture capitalists making investments.”

“As venture capitalists we used to want people to work harder and harder to get more productivity, certainly more than 40 hours a week. We would push them and push them until they started to burn out, get demoralized, and threaten to quit.”

“Now it is different with Scrum. In order to double our productivity we need to work less, certainly no more than 40 hours a week. Scrum is intense and you cannot work extra hours at that pace without losing productivity.”

The VCs proved to themselves that sustainable pace works. The maximum productivity point is no more than 40 hours a week with Scrum.

The head of OpenView Labs that supports our investment portfolio companies recently told me he was concerned. Productivity had stayed about the same when they cut their 60 hour weeks to 40 hour weeks. He felt guilty they hadn’t doubled productivity although he was happy with a major improvement in lifestyle for him and his team.

He asked me to do a retrospective with his team to see what they could do to improve. I found out that the number of story points was up 20% by moving the work week to a sustainable pace. However, 25-35% of the stories they used to work on were eliminated by prioritizing the Scrum Product Backlog (they were considered “junk” stories). This meant that they used to have to do about 160 story points to achieve the 120 story points per week they do today.

So their velocity is 160% higher by working a shorter work week. The big question for them is, “Would velocity increase if they worked less?”

8 comments:

Jeff Sutherland said...

Clint Keith has noticed a similar phenomenon in the video gaming industry. See his blog at: http://www.agilegamedevelopment.com/2008/06/scrum-overtime.html

Vyas said...

Where does the curve come from? What is the source of this data?

Jeff Sutherland said...

This curve was the assessment of the founder of OpenView Venture Partners on this impact of Scrum on his organization. The details of the Scrum implementation that reflects this curve can be found in Sutherland and Altman, "However a Venture Group Does Scrum." Agile 2009. Click on the link "Jeff Sutherland's Papers" on the left side of this web page.

Andrej Ruckij said...

I would say, working on right things with sustainable pace increases velocity, but not working less

Jeff Sutherland said...

People do not measure performance and don't really understand that less time can be more productiive. This is the message of Openview investors. Sustaninable pace at 40 hours a week produces more with Scrum. If you disagree, please provide real data. Tom Poppendieck worked with an XP company whose management varied the workweek for teams doing extensive pair programming. The maximum production occurred at 16 hours of intensive pair programmer. 40 hours a week may be too much.

tekzenpdm said...

With Scrum, the faster decision making skill improves within the team leading to efficient choices in the stories that are taken for a sprint, so I would agree that as the teams mature and become high performing, productivity will increase with less work hours. One interesting article in WSJ about this subject http://on.wsj.com/21GluL has some good insights on this.

Windwaterwine said...

I just arrived after perusing 'school house scrum' over there. This curve matches learnings shown by groups following what I'll call an 'agile learning' model eg www.cwsei.ubc.ca
The group-team does better with less top down stuff and more inside group growing. The cwsei pattern now lectures less and gets higher scores.

Windwaterwine said...

I just arrived after perusing 'school house scrum' over there. This curve matches learnings shown by groups following what I'll call an 'agile learning' model eg www.cwsei.ubc.ca
The group-team does better with less top down stuff and more inside group growing. The cwsei pattern now lectures less and gets higher scores.