Sustainable Development FAQ

Our business can’t afford to go slowly. Why should we roll this out?

It can be tempting to believe that heroics and hustling for long hours is the key to growth and meeting aggressive deadlines. In particular, the startup world is full of stories of founders who work every waking hour - and many nights - believing that it is required to make their business successful.

However, there is no proven correlation between working unsustainable hours and business success. Many companies that succeed tend to attribute their growth to their intense work ethic, but ignore other factors such as luck, market forces, timing, and so on. They rarely describe the cost of working unsustainably by not discussing the health impacts on their employees, or the creative opportunities they lost due to their teams being so overwhelmed.

There are dozens of studies and data showing that healthy environments that allow employees time to rest and work reasonable hours can be productive and successful. Indeed, plenty of technology businesses have worked sustainably and still been wildly successful.

Implemented correctly, Sustainable Development should enable your teams to do more in the long run, not less.

What happens during project crunch time? Is the team meant to just go home and miss their deadlines rather than work for a few extra hours?

Sustainable Development isn’t about being extremely militant about work schedules. If the business needs a team to address a crisis or meet a project deadline, then the team should do that.

Teams practicing Sustainable Development strive for sustainability over the long term, and accept that there will be times of greater pressure than others. What is important is that the team doesn’t work in “crunch mode” all of the time.

A healthy team will also look for improvements to their own processes and systems to help prevent a repeat of crises or other situations that call for extraordinary work.

Why isn’t this all more prescriptive? I was expecting to see things like “Teams should only work from 9 to 5…”.

A very prescriptive model would likely never get adopted by any team, since it would have to match their business needs and existing team culture.

Sustainable Development instead focuses on empowering team members to work with their management to collectively agree on how they should operate in healthy ways for the long-term. They’re the experts on their own needs and challenges, so they are best positioned to determine their optimal way of working.

What if all the engineers on my team agree to adopt this, but our managers do not?

The success of Sustainable Development in an organization requires the agreement and participation of the team’s management. Without that agreement, management could soon override the sustainable practices that the engineers put in place in favor of more intense work pressures with short-term deadline focuses.

Isn’t this just obvious? Don’t all teams do this implicitly?

Most teams do build tribal awareness of their own work practices, but they are rarely written down explicitly. Being explicit about them allows them to be evaluated, improved, and made known to potential employees before they join.

I’m an engineer. How can I convince my manager to adopt this?

Engineering managers can only benefit from adopting Sustainable Development!

They could easily see (and measure):

Remember, Sustainable Development isn’t just for engineers. It’s for their managers too! Everyone gets to participate and decide on how to work at a healthy pace, and for the long term.

I’m an engineering manager. How should I roll this out?

Collectively defining your own sustainable work practices is the most important part. If you have never discussed work practices with your team before, meet with them and ask for their input on how they’d like to work, and come to the table with how you would like them to operate. Then try to reconcile the two models into something everyone can all agree on.

Secondly, just make sure you follow your own stated practices, remembering that as a manager your example carries a lot of weight. So if your practice says “no working while on vacation” and you reply to some emails during your time away, your team might think that Sustainable Development isn’t being practiced any more, or that you believe you’re exempt.

Lastly, make sure to continuously improve your team’s work practices to be more sustainable.

What’s stopping a team saying they follow Sustainable Development, but their stated practices are to work 18 hours a day?

Nothing! If a team collectively agrees with their management that very long hours and weekends will be sustainable and healthy, that’s their decision to make.

The Sustainable Development framework offers protection against unhealthy working models: