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Reality: 2x work, 1/2 time, 4x energy

Updated: May 9, 2022

After years of being inside organizations, government agencies, and start-up companies of various shapes and sizes, gathering empirical data and conducting experimentations on change, I can honestly say that we've been oversold on the idea of Agile.

The Jeff Sunderland, scrum expression of doing twice-the-work in half-the-time, just doesn't add up for most of us. I'm discovering what we actually need is new thinking, new ways of working, more human-centered being, and even new formulas to address the complexity of these times.

Let's First Check the Math

In Physics, there is a formula for Kinetic Energy (Ke) that goes;


where M is Mass of an object and V represents its Velocity.

In Agile, there is a longstanding key metric for a team's velocity denoted as the number of Story Points, aka the amount of work, completed in a Sprint (typically a 2-week development time period).

Team Velocity = Work Completed in a Sprint

I have yet to meet a Program, Project, and even a Line Manager who isn't interested in how to get the most work out of their teams, i.e. how to increase their team's velocity. As they should be; the System they work in greatly incentivizes such performance gains. I once had a Project Manager, after reading a book on Scrum, ask me..

so how do I double my team's velocity?

My response then was, "Easy. Do the necessary things that double the work getting done." Naturally, we both had differences of opinions of those necessary things. In retrospect, I would have liked to have shared my new perspective:

In order to 2x completed work, the team needs 4x energy

This brings us back to the physics formula for Ke. Which solved for V looks like

V = √(2KE/M)

Reduced and simply stated in Agile terms, the formula above gives us our new and improved expression

Work Completed = 4 x Team's Energy spread over the Team itself

Plainly speaking, in order to double or triple the amount of work the team is currently doing, the team needs to find 4 or 9 times the amount of energy. 😳

Solving for the Team Energy Equation

Now you might be ready to run out and apply this formula on your teams but let me save you some valuable time and energy with lessons I've learned from my own experiments. Here are a couple examples off my Do's and Don'ts list when deciding how to increase your team's speed and output:


❌ Hire more people on the project team!

You just added Mass (M) to the Ke=1/2MV^2 equation, therefore, more energy is needed. Good rule of thumb for a team is, enough people to eat 1-2 pizzas.

❌ Let existing talent walk!

While you just reduced Mass (M) to the Ke=1/2MV^2 equation, you also reduced the amount of work getting done. You may also be unaware of what other vital roles were once held on the team. [link to my blog on Ghost Roles and Time Spirits.]


✅ Invest in your current teams!

You just added Energy (Ke) to the Ke=1/2MV^2 equation as well as contributed to their longevity. This could be in the form of increasing the corporate budget for training, mentoring, coaching; providing greater challenges to the team; employee salary increases, time off, and/or deep democracy of the company vision; WFH; team feeling more connected to their purpose, etc.

✅ Distribute the vital roles!

You just added Energy (Ke) to the Ke=1/2MV^2 equation (reduced a team member's role fatigue) AND also mitigated the risk of a dip in velocity from the sudden loss of a teammate. Think of a developer who practices paired programming and/or a code tester who has trained the rest of the team on how to properly conduct end-to-end code deployments. Knowledge transfer and skill-sharing is energizing! Another role ripe for redistributing amongst the team is the traditional Scrum Master (SM), particularly if your SMs are already spread thin across teams, limited to just helping teams adopt agile processes, facilitating events, tracking metrics, and are predominately problem solving. Instead I offer another path.

The Scrum Master as Energy Shifter

The role of the Scrum Master is rapidly evolving. Project Managers (PM) are fast becoming SMs and soon-to-be Agile Coaches, and even undercover, culture Change Agents. If your goal is to maximize your team's velocity; develop your SMs, and any future employee for that matter, into team Energy Shifters.

What's an Energy Shifter?

I intend on digging into this topic in a future blog. For now, I'll speak to some of the qualities I see in Energy Shifters (4X'ers), and, I'm open to naming further qualities:

  • Incredibly self-aware and socially aware

  • Skillfully navigate complexity with humble curiosity

  • Are the Engineers of the human-BEING, DOING, & BECOMING

  • Unlock team potential and leverage team intelligence

  • Listening, reading the room, naming the energy in the room

  • Trust teams to solve their own problems

  • Hold safe spaces for exploration and experimentation

And if I could assemble an Energy Shifter, I'd take equal parts new-aged, HR strategic thinker, cutting-edge Technology professional, and badass Servant Leader.

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