As if this weren’t long enough (and it is, consider yourselves warned!, though you could subscribe and have me read it through or buy the one off recording here), let me start with some apologies and some confessions - I have been slacking on writing true things on here because of two things:
Firstly, this space feels less and less interested in real dialogue as it becomes inundated with recession-related uncollaborative fear-based behaviours.
Secondly, and more importantly, to be “NeuroSpicy and not Masking” - or at least “NeuroDivergent and not Impression Managing against it” at work on ADHD Month when I keep insisting it’s imperative to have #AuthenticLeadership- the true reason is that I get burned out writing “the real” is that my team made me “Stack” away - heh!
The DORA Report and its Importance to the Tech and Business Community
That said, over the past week or so, I had a good few discussions about the latest DORA Report with folks and some interviews with journalists who had read my books and they wanted my take on the topic. This is big, so I have spent quite some time on it.
You’ll find all the hottest takes that are free under https://www.techledculture.com/on-the-dora-report
However we had Mental Health Crisis at Work, Gratitude Day (which passed disgustingly quietly and NO ONE downloaded the free play we gave teams!) and the Life-Work International Days and Weeks. They are all bigger magnitude problems than the lack of faith in a certain type of development, in particular when you now work with the Global Liasson for ISO’s Psychological Health and Safety at work - shoutout to the extraordinary Alessandria Polizzi, my Secret Society Co-host!
The title says “feelings”, not “in-depth analysis”, but I will do that as well over the next few weeks, chiefly because for us (in the companies I lead at PeopleNotTech and at TechLedCulture) the first DORA reports are part of the mythological movement towards humanity in the workplace. They have single-handedly put Psychological Safety and the most significant reports of the studies of teams and leadership that Google has offered humanity on the map.
Let me make something clear: we are big fans and big believers of what an absolutely brilliant addition the DORA reports are to today’s society, and as I was saying in my book “People Before Tech: The Importance of Psychological Safety and Teamwork in the Digital Age”, 2021 Bloomsbury (BTW Did you know, it was bookended by a preface by Dr Amy Edmondson and on the other end, an interview i did with Gene Kim where he and I had a chat around Psychological Safety and my concept of HumanDebt, and that in the book we tell the story of what we learned making software that measures and improves Psychological Safety for high-performing teams? Just Sayin’ as I’m thinking #ModestyKillsChange these days;)
The DORA 2023 Report and Burnout
The latest report is at least a little bit “Boll0x!” In my opinion. Here’s why - Burnout is a topic that I spent a lot of time considering and researching in my latest book “Tech-Led Culture: Unlock the Full Potential of Your Business and people” with dedicated chapters on the Psychology of Tech Teams and, yes, techies in general have this burnout (not Trunk Based Development devs only) , in spades, it will be endemic soon.
But, that doesn’t mean I defend the report because it feels almost accidental to have concluded that same thing with this little data/thought. Because after all the research I’ve invested in the Psychology of tech teams, there’s one thing I can reassure us all of at a minimum, and that -as the threads on Social Media are starting to agree since they’ve been peppered with the pioneers of the field and their frameworks (initially born of DORAs past themselves!)- the genuine definition of burnout is a much more complex affair to understand and diagnose than this paltry and rather rudimentary annual-survey-by-the-by definition which was used by the present DORA researchers (as I understand, happy to correct if wrong)
“Burnout Sustainability of work is important, and burnout is an important indicator of this. Please answer a few questions about how your work has affected you. Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements
My feelings about work negatively affect my life outside of work
I feel like I am ineffective in my work
I am indifferent or cynical about my work
I feel exhausted
I feel burned out from my work”
Nathen Harvey - Developer Advocate at DORA
…which is, as readers of my books will hopefully agree, simply not good enough, irrespective of validity.
"She Told Us So..."
BTW Thats a new idea my team convinced my long suffering new husband to undertake on behalf of their indignance. I promised not to intervene or veto much of anything past the first one they showed me what you see above on the DORA report as part of my control freak CBT so good luck to us all... You will find it under www.davebally.co.uk and our podcast.
Speaking of books, “Tech-Led Culture: Unlock the Potential of Your Business and People” dropped in the UK, just as we were on our annual honeymoon instalment (we’ve explained in our “people AND tech” podcast why so many!:) and is coming to the US and the rest of the world in two weeks.
So far no reviews. I’m not surprised, but I like to believe it will change because reviews are the only way to get more of us to get this complex stuff clearer and faster!
Here are two episodes about the book:
In those episodes, my co-hosts and I mostly walk through the chapters of the book to enable you to skip to the bits that you can use and matter, but also because they shall be presented in two different points of view about the same book as I discuss it with Mrs ExHR (@Allessandria Polizzi and MrTech (@Dave Ballantyne) But there’s also a big lesson to learn when you have end-to-end ownership- just because there is an ideological buzz or a moment when an idea may be trending enough to gain momentum, that still doesn’t mean we can stop mid-sprint and wait for it to settle or even exclusively engage in the discourse for dopamine, on the contrary.
And, as I have relentlessly maintained for years in all my writing, I firmly believe we are entering an inflexion point where the nature of work has to radically change very rapidly to eliminate and prevent this HumanDebt so EQed, Empathic/Kind/Human/Non-D!ck-like TECH-LED CULTURES (yes screaming:) that put People Before Tech (see what I did there?:) is what we urgently need so I should be out here waving “I told you so!” cards that my team would like me to wave in their wonderful enthusiasm and indignation when they see either plagiarism or non-attribution. But, beyond the above fodder for tech community memes, we have a job to do that’s far bigger than the moment on Social Media or even the situation in the tech industry.
More Doing, Less Talking
So, for our part at PeopleNotTech, we have released a B2C offering you can find at www.techledculture.com/technologies and launched a few other projects and Pods so we’ve been having mad -but fun!- sprints for the past few weeks.
I’ve learned some new things, so let me pass some learnings in case you can use them. I’ve found these out in this massive “Question WHY for AI” reorg exercise that my teams and I have been doing for a number of past sprints. Most of these things are about us as teams and us as individuals, and the exercise in itself will yield results for years to come and has reaffirmed our authenticity, passion and need to move mountains.
“Awesome”, you’ll think, “What’s that to do with me?”. Well, some of the things we learned cut across any individuality and would definitely apply to anyone else in any other remote/hybrid management teams - for instance, get some Humanizing Sprints in quickly. Ideally, a few a year, ideally in person, ideally with extreme honesty and empathy and ideally at least one of these exercises a BAW (Big Annual Why) - more on that to come next week!
And that once more, as ever, when the world around us goes mental, the worst thing you can do as a company is bury your head in the sand and pretend your humans are not made of flesh and hopes and tears. So much is going so horribly wrong - Israel. Ukraine, a political climate which is increasingly divisive and a life threat to our children - that we can not ignore, this is our surrounding reality and that the people that live in it can not suspend it or completely disregard it no matter how much they would like to. And let’s face it, they oughtn’t “want to” in the first place!
So do that #AuthenticLeadership thing and take a moral stance that reflects what you genuinely believe in your heart of hearts as owners of your companies or brands but listen to all your people and give them grace and a safe platform to express themselves (as have I with a political take on LinkedIn the other day) because they’ll all be feeling it in one way or another. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t want them working for you.
Be the kind of employer Wickes has to be to have a COO with a courageous stance like the one in the thread above or the kind of company that puts a clear banner on their first page on where they stand on the current events like Riverside, but don’t be neither! Don’t be the employer (or team member, for that matter!) who pretends reality isn’t happening and you’ve employed machines.
And to bring it back to burnout - if you ignore humans when societal and environmental issues crush them, how can you demand they are productive? How can they feel like more than resources? How when they have to swallow the disconnect between your rhetorics of care and your proof which comes when you're not questioning an “am fine” from an Israeli colleague for fear of appearing intrusive or not double-checking on the Ukrainian outsourced partner because “nothing new”. There’s a lot of work to be done and none of it is about figuring out which sort of software development is harder or even “better” at this point.
Of course, the one with human interaction, which comes as very uncomfortable to the MAJORITY of us in technology, is the hardest when no one trained us and helped us hack it. Or even acknowledged it. “I know it’s harder to program with others than alone; thanks for changing your ways and seeing why”. And yes, let’s be honest, a sense of quality is more challenging and more consuming to deliver on (and have internalised, and have it become a continuous improvement #HumanWork habit ) than a disregard for it
Oh and correct me if I'm wrong, but did all of the above not coincide with a few years of super high performance coupled with a mandatory and cosy but devastatingly de-humanizing apocalyptic experience that has barely only just wrapped up? If we want to be serious about genuine burnout then let’s first remember we have excellent research from Microsoft and GitHub on the topic and use the meat of that socio-economic context ideation to build upon, and then let’s measure how much Human Debt we all have. IKR?!?:)
Then let’s advance quickly over steps like the report (BTW if the researchers are serious about a second pass, we’re happy to show them some of the questions we have used for the last few years to measure the Psychological Safety, Impression Management, Flexibility, Openness, Courage and Resilience and consequent Burnout of teams (and incidentally, their correlated Aristotle “Score" and "Remote Work Satisfaction Score" ) and all come together from the many communities that I know my readers are in from HR and Leadership to Data or Ops to Tech and Product to Agile/NewName and DevOps and eventually, to this unavoidable Tech-Led Culture that demand we are ALl inclusive and collaborative not divisive.
But, as ever in my pleas? Can we start with common language and stop reinventing the wheel (shout out to the brilliance of all the HumanDebt Fighters and Preventers that were appalled on our behalf and sent it to our team at PeopleNotTech - we see you, your comprehension is what we need for support. Once we all have read however many books, studies, articles as we need to have to admit straight up to stop being Human Debt Deniers that we DO need common language and simple but powerful human ACTION then we can all work to investigate bigger questions such as:
“How much direct correlation is there between the crisis of mental health and having to perform in an organisation riddled with fear and terror and an overwhelming sense of disconnect - one with untouched savage Human Debt?”
"How fast do people burn out if they live with low parameters of the Google Aristotle findings for how long?”
“What duty of care does the Software Industry have to reduce the risk of burnout under ISO 45003 and other standards that protect social and emotional safety of workers in all other self-respecting industries,”
“Is this the difference of a generation and what future are we building?”
Or is it just about us getting the courage to know we deserve to be safe, not burned out, and at our "best at work" so starting to demand it?
Deserving Safety, Joy and Flow
Speaking of safe places to have fun and express ideas - our newest Tech Led Culture pod to join the SecretSocietyOfHumanWorkAdvocates and Human Debt Fighters and our people AND tech casts is…. <drum roll>
“Married to Tech”, think "Come Dine with Me" but with techies, and I am fortunate enough to have illustrious tech couples as friends, so we decided to record some of our chats. Tracy and Bob Bannon, Dana and Bryan Finster and yours truly and Dave Ballantyne all got together and talked about the DORA findings on Trunk Based Development potentially causing burnout.
This is the episode but it left us all wondering and the debates continued around the dinner table - this is our dinner-table response in this podcast and TL: DR I believe there is a strong correlation with neurodivergence and autistic burnout (and its correspondent in neurotypical people) that creates that.
And this is what Trace and Bob sent after: “The DORA report is refreshing and eye-opening. It has taken nearly a decade to correctly expand the aperture. The report highlights ways to accumulate debt: technical debt, operational debt and, most importantly, that of human debt. We are only now seeing human centricity and enablers like understanding the value you are delivering, team stability, and even the most foundational concepts like documentation. Better late than never. We have a lot to do to address the human element. We need to stop saying culture change focus on trust. I wrote about this in my chapter for the book, “Reinventing, CyberSecurity. “ I’ll also be providing a Keynote at All Day DevOps on the trust equation concept. The bottom line is that we have to focus on #HumansFirst. We can’t deliver value when people are in need.”
My Hot Take
My hot take after 25 years of “amateur Agile Anthropologist” and unPhd-ed teams’ performance and well-being researcher: Techies have been almost abused over the past few years, so of course, they are burned! But despite the informational and societal barrage, and even despite the other massive factor of having had to change their ways of work and thinking repeatedly over the past 15 years, the burnout at work for techies comes chiefly from the cognitive dissonance we have to invest in masking and performing while we feel the weight of the Human Debt.
You see, they are exhausted not only by the workload of the infamous “McKinsey outer loop actions” or even by the amount of learning and thinking needed for their positions but by how they have had to shift towards openness and collaboration when they were pair programming, acquiring e2e ownership of software products, or really just teaming in any fashion these days.
The irony for some of these developers we talk to? Before times, they had to do a lot less real human interaction in the physical offices as busy work and social convention saw to it that they could retain the mask and the uniform and do solitary work in peace, disturbed only by pesky meetings one had to survive. Now that most work has moved to remote, those interactions have become bare and necessary, and masks are less and less encouraged or even practical.
That made it all insidiously harder to navigate in ways that affected them silently on the inside. In particular if they’ve never had any training, tools or help. Or coaching or genuine 1-on-1 counselling, and how many of us have had that luxury in the last few years, which have also incidentally seen a severe decline of what this same layer of us (techies) earn so we couldn’t have subsidised our professional development from our pocket as companies have long outsourced to us in unrecognized and unholy ways for years.,
Do you know who else this is especially hard for? Techies come people managers, and I will bet most of the people in the DORA report were grappling with that too - the curse of being promoted for being too good in technology is that you’re practically given a death sentence away from your preferred state of flow and into a state of continuous fear and uncertainty instead. They were having enough trouble in the offices; now they need to instantly discover conflict management, growth, comms AND purpose and morale remotely for their entire teams. It’s harder. How could they be anything else but burnt out?
But also, the ones DORA reaches are the top-performing teams who changed mentalities, ways of work and DNA to achieve results, so yes, they are burned. So now help them out of it and teach them how first to recover, and then how to become resilient and get anti-Human-Debt strategies in place as their habitual Human Work and yes, if you can, slow or ease their workload but above all - ask them how they are.
How they REALLY are
How hard it’s been to change all they knew about what they were doing before in this position and work in entirely different ways that they knew were technically and morally better, but were so much more complex and felt like they had to battle their own organisations while performing for them at times.
Anyhow…. this is getting too long :) , but to me, this DORA report, while attackable on some points, still proves that the HumanDebt is starting to reflect in TechDebt or at least lesser outcomes.
Subscribe to the People AND Tech podcast as that’s where Dave and I drone on and on about what makes developers tick, what should matter, how to keep tech organisations highly performant and who even wants to do that these days among our memories from 20-30 years ago when we each started in Technology (complete with “change desk structures according to teaming” story from back in my days in Sweden pre FinTech!). This report is the first data-based sign of something I’ve been saying for years -
“Let’s clean the HumanDebt because techies are on the verge of a breakdown, we are saddling them with far too high of cognitive load with far too little being returned to them from the perspective of the Google Aristotle findings. They don’t have Psychological Safety, nearly no Structure and Clarity in most organisations, they are relentlessly asked to be dependable but the goalposts change, they have NO tools or training to do the Human Work and they are asked to interact with others in ways that are hard and potentially unnatural to their brain make-up so they will break.”
- perhaps this is them breaking, seeing how a flimsy teen-magazine-level set of questions immediately uncovers it!
No one is exempt from this burnout that has ever made technology, I don’t think - the Human Debt that crushed top performers, more worryingly, shows its head even in good organisations that are killing it on process and tech churning. They, too, are often really missing the people's point and haven’t actually habitualized any human work or any depth of knowledge and change of behaviour of their people. They wouldn’t be seeing this now. That’s the more worrying takeaway from the DORA report.
And here’s another one for us all - it may have shown in technology first because, guess what? We are now tech-led in workplace cultures but it’s coming to every industry where our intellect and perfectionism have forced us into sacrifices of emotional and mental toil that we can not afford to have made.
We’re all burnt out and must regroup and re-learn how to get out of it, keep out of it and recover if we must.
The only way out is through and the only way to better is by attacking the cause - the Human Debt by creating Tech-Led Cultures that put People Before Tech
Please buy the book so you can get me a much-coveted review, and if you do, let me know and we’ll get you a free yearly membership to all membership areas ( and you'll keep out of Dave's weekly "She Told Us So" list :) )
If not, please Subscribe to my social channels and go to www.techledculture.com/technology to kit your teams with multiple plays they can do to avoid and decrease burnout or at least to www.techledculture.com/freebies to help your team.
Until next week - hang in there; burnout is nasty, dark, and overwhelming but completely recoverable - search for Autistic Burnout Recovery and one for Strategies to increase Well-being and Resiliency of techies, avoid the crap sources and you’ll get a good start on it.
Or use any of our resources on www.techledculture.com, including getting one of us in to help kickstart a BurnOutRecovery and Prevention for Techies Anti-HumanDebt mini program complete with results and popcorn experiments to reverse it today.