How to Avoid Developer Burnout from Big Transformation

Many companies take the ‘big bang approach’ to transformation and it often fails. Worse, though, is that the pressure tech teams apply causes burnout among developers.

Mark McNally, CEO, Worth Internet Systems

August 18, 2021

4 Min Read
burnout developers

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 for it before and expedited it during the crisis.

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

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.

We have found that if you look after your people, you’re more likely to prosper.

Are You Burning Out Your Developers?

Tech burnout is more common than you might think. Eighty-three percent 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. Eighty-one percent of software developers reported an increase in burnout as a result of the pandemic. Increased workload is the main reason, followed by inefficient process, and unclear goals and targets.

We are also seeing developers 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 and maintaining business as usual or putting out fires on the other hand.

The Worsening Skills Shortage

A report by TeamBlind found that 74% of engineering and technology roles experienced burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic, up from 60% in February 2020, which isn't aided by the shortage of tech talent. IT professionals are leaving their jobs and even the industry because they're looking for career growth and they're concerned about business stability.

The real issue with losing developers isn’t your inability to solve a problem through software. It’s worse than that: Losing people, a primary business asset, means losing your business.

Retain, develop, and grow your tech talent, 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 the 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 appetite for continuous development, an approach that values open communication and interaction across the whole team 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. Reorient the direction in which you’re going, which could mean making your teams more self-organizing, more creative, or more empowered to make decisions.

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, including design, engineering, test, ops, UX and 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 efficiently.

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. It’s important that they understand the aims and business outcomes of a specific transformation initiative. It’s also important 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, and 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.

About the Author(s)

Mark McNally

CEO, Worth Internet Systems

Mark McNally is CEO and co-founder of Worth Internet Systems a technology agency that partners with businesses to power product development and deliver bold digital transformations.

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