Sunday, September 19, 2010

Work, Relationships or Health: Choose Two.

Many companies develop their software based on what is called “agile development”. One agile process called “Scrum” involves advancing your product in small increments rather than making progress in larger chunks over a longer period of time. The idea is that by releasing smaller iterations more frequently, you keep a tighter rein on rapidly-changing requirements and you can make corrections quicker with less impact.

In his book Succeeding with Agile, Mike Cohn refers to The Iron Triangle, a diagram that illustrates the relationship between three key elements of software development - Scope, Schedule and Resources. It looks like this:

Each project has a scope (the number of features), a schedule (deadline) and requires a finite amount of resources (people and tools). For example, a project might include five key features, require three developers, and has a deadline of four months. Often, a project manager will make a customer choose two. “You can have all your features in four months but I need more resources”. Or “I have three developers and they can only get four features done in four months”. Whatever the solution, the one thing you can’t sacrifice is the element in the middle, Quality.

I used to work with a VP of Engineering who was fond of saying “I can fly you to Tokyo or I can fly you around for an hour, but I can’t fly you to Tokyo in an hour – choose”.

So what does all this have to do with work, relationships and health? This theory got me thinking about the Iron Triangle of Life. Is there a similar relationship with key elements in our lives? What if the Iron Triangle of Life looked like this:

Most of us are in a constant struggle to balance work, relationships and health while trying not to sacrifice happiness. Can we really do all three? Jim Collins, author of the book Good To Great, says “If you have more than three priorities then you don’t have any.” Perhaps we are only capable of satisfying two at a time.

I think that is probably true but I believe things like work, relationships and health do not have black & white thresholds. With a schedule, if something is due on Friday at 5pm, either you made it or you didn’t. There’s no gray area. Its achievement is absolute. Same with # of features and amount of resources, either you made it or you didn’t. But with work, relationships and health, they are not absolutes. They all exist in varying states of achievement.

Say you're going to school at night to earn a degree while working full time and trying to take care of your family. You might be sacrificing time with your family in the short-term order to create a better future for everyone later. You've sacrificed relationships in favor of advancing work so you can have better relationships later.

What about women/men who give up work completely to stay home with their kids? They've sacrificed work and income in favor of relationships and family. What if your work and family leave little time to care for your health and you get sick?

In the end, I think we intuitively just handle what needs to be handled and plan the best we can. We do our best to catch the ball that's falling, throw it back up in the air, and make sure we’re there to catch the next one.

So how do you balance work, relationships, and health? What are your priorities and how do you determine which ones outrank the others?


Banteringblonde said...

I think sometimes life balance is constant state of flux for me. Each time I think I have it worked out I have to adjust again. In the end my family has to be priority because I have found that when things are sane at home, i'm much happier and sane myself!

Jo White (Mediamum) said...

I love this post - I find I juggle all the balls, so much like you do - There is a balance in priorities, and they change (which might be what Fiona was kind of saying too) - the squeaky wheel gets the grease. I'd like it to be more a team effort on the home front... but the kind of agile development we do in relationships/home is so far from being understood by so many, we really do travel that road alone. Let's see *that* get voted up on Hacker News. ;)

Lucy and Ethel said...

Don't faint!

I waved the white flag during this particularly chaotic football season and dropped Twitter... not that anyone noticed, unless the number of RTs plummeted :)

I have also done whatever it takes to try to get MORE SLEEP, as I don't like looking - or feeling - my age.

I am also spending less time on the computer after my husband drags in from the 60-mile drive from school/coaching. I (finally) figured that if he can sacrifice, so can I. That means some mad scrambling during the day at an age where any kind of scrambling is iffy. Fun!

Of course, you see what useful BF CLs Ethel (staggering around from constant sleep deprivation for way too long) and I have been....

We may have been fired!


Mandy said...

It's a constant balancing act. everything is chaotic at the beginning of each school semester and the summer and then it seems to settle down as everyone's routine settles.

Other than commitments for school activities, I like to try to limit my weeknight commitments to one a week because I like to be at home with my kids. I like us to eat dinner together and I like to be there for them.

I also forgo a lot of other networking opportunities during the day so I can get my work and writing done and be around when my kids get home from school.

I know I don't exercise enough but ...

Digital Mom said...

It's all a journey. I've fought the fight, cried the tears, wished the wishes, prayed the prayers and now I just throw my hands up for the ride, do my best, promise only what I know I can deliver (most of the time) and ask for forgiveness & grace along the way.

Lara Galloway said...


I wanted to leave a note and tell you how powerful this post is. I especially like your quote about how having too many priorities is the same as having none. I found that quote, posted it on twitter, and had a great conversation with several women about it.

Sometimes it's actually hard to articulate what we want or what our priorities are. Our default setting is to be putting out the fire that seems easiest to manage at the time.

I think that having to "pick two" out of the three elements of the iron triangle is a great way to be powerful and accomplish your goals. It's not saying you can't have it all, but bringing laser focus to what is actually possible.

Love it!

Lara Galloway

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