How to avoid tech burnout from big transformations

If you’re reading this, you most likely embarked on a transformation project over the last year. Maybe it was driven by your response to the pandemic. Or perhaps you planned it before and expedited it due to the crisis.

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What many businesses didn’t anticipate was the enormous pressure transformation requirements would put on their tech teams. Not only is developer burnout detrimental to the business in the short term. It can also derail your long-term transformation strategy.

As well as burning out tech teams, studies have found that only 5% of big transformations are successful. More often than not they fail. The reality is that large-scale change takes years. In most businesses, implementing change properly is an incremental activity.

In our experience of helping clients to achieve success with their digital transformation projects, we have found that if you look after your people, you’re more likely to prosper.

Are you burning out your tech teams?

Tech burnout is more common than you might think. 83% of software developers feel burnout from work, according to a study from Haystack Analytics. It’s a sobering figure because it has real consequences, affecting productivity, product quality, team morale and project timeframes.

COVID-19 has undoubtedly been a contributing factor over the past year. 81% of software developers reported an increase in burnout as a result of the pandemic. They cite increased workload as the main reason, with other factors including inefficient process, and unclear goals and targets.

We are also seeing tech teams getting pulled in multiple directions, which is another big challenge. They are often split between today’s tasks and tomorrow’s aspirations: moving the business forward with new projects on one hand. Getting side-lined by maintaining business as usual on the other - or putting out fires in other areas of the organisation.

The worsening skills shortage

Meanwhile, there is a serious shortage of skilled technology practitioners out there, including good quality developers. Over 70% of technology employers are experiencing skills shortages this year, found a recent study by recruitment firms Robert Walters, totaljobs and Jobsite.

It’s a problem that is getting worse, with another report discovering that 58% of UKI tech workers in IT and computing jobs are considering a new role. The talent exodus could cost businesses up to £17bn.

The real issue with losing developers isn’t your inability to solve a problem through software so you can be more agile. It’s worse than that. Losing people - a primary business asset - means losing your business.

Retain, develop and grow your tech talent on the other hand, and you’re on track to achieving a successful transformation.

How to do it right

We believe you can transform in a way that protects, nurtures and values your tech teams. Here are four principles we use ourselves and encourage our clients to embrace.

1. Start small to win big.

Huge transformations don’t usually work. Small and medium transformations, however, are over 10 times more likely to succeed. So, build something small that works well and scale it up over time. That’s the best way to make big transformation work.

Also, we find that transformation is not a destination; it’s a journey. In practice, that means having an approach that values open communication and interaction across the whole team; an appetite for continuous development; and a willingness to fail and start again, or course-correct at any point.

2. Learn by doing.

Work in small continuous iterations. Allow feedback and new data to be continually integrated back into the strategy. And re-orient the direction in which you’re going. For you this could mean making your teams more self-organising, more creative, or more empowered to make decisions.

At Worth, we’ve built up significant expertise across the years in development continuity principles like continuous integration, continuous delivery and continuous deployment. In our experience, when you move from traditional innovation to making automated, continuous improvements, you build better products and services, and enable the business to transform organically.

3. Make better decisions faster.

The common lag on big projects is slow decision making, caused by teams working in traditional silos. Discover the beauty of multidisciplinary product teams. Ones that combine expertise from different aspects of the product delivery spectrum: design, engineering, test, ops, UX, security.

As you foster an environment of teamwork, openness, co-creation and diversity, you will accelerate your quality and speed of decision making. As a result, projects will run more effectively.

4. Invest in your people.

The best way to avoid burnout and address the skills gap is to value and invest in your people. Nurture and invest in your tech teams through coaching and mentoring that grows and upskills them.

Ensure that your people have a purpose and find their work meaningful. That they understand the aims and business outcomes of a specific transformation initiative. And that they are unified, collaborating closely as a problem-solving team that is free to experiment and free to fail.

Collaborative teams that feel empowered to innovate, make their own decisions and bring about change are one of your strongest assets.

The pandemic taught us the power of digital transformation. But it also taught us the value of human life. The secret to successful transformation is, therefore, to start small and grow incrementally while looking after the wellbeing of your tech talent.

What is your situation?

Let's connect and explore how we'd make your initiative more successful. What describes your situation best?