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Get Off the Charrette and Work at a Sustainable Pace

The delightful smell was of creosote drifting in through open doors during a desert rain storm. Steely Dan playing in the background, thick black coffee, razor blades, yarrow blooms, Elmer’s glue, and mounds of card board from the back of grocery stores. These were the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells we knew well as we worked in the ancient basement of Herring Hall on the University of Arizona campus, late one winter night.

Image of a man and woman on a carriageWe were Landscape Architecture students, and we had been assigned a project to create an urban design using three dimensional models the month before. In those days, as always, we procrastinated and delayed starting the project until days before the due date. Now, we had been up continuously for days and nights in the basement, cutting and crafting the cardboard models with miniature trees represented by dried yarrow blooms.

On the last night before the project due date our professor came in to review the status of our projects. He first circled the room and scanned our work and viewed our tired eyes. He had seen it all before. We had a reputation for working overtime at the last minute to get our projects done. He took a position in the middle of the room, smiled an all-knowing smile, and posed the question to the class; “on the charrette?”.

Charrette is the French word for cart. During the 19th century in Paris, student architects from the École des Beaux-Arts would work furiously on their work at the last minute in order to make a deadline while they rode the charrette to the review. This is how the term “on the charrette” or “on charrette” originated.

Today we can also use the term “on the charrette” to describe a Microsoft Dynamics project team that is at the last minute furiously banging out code in order to meet a project deadline. Working overtime and banging out code is fine if done once in awhile. Unfortunately, there are negative consequences to consistently being “on the charrette”. Here are some of those consequences:

  • Morale suffers. Being on the charrette repeatedly gets old very fast
  • Quality of work decreases. People make more mistakes when they get tired
  • The team velocity will decrease over the charrette. Tired teams produce less
  • The charrette distorts the overall team velocity for future planning
  • People can get physically sick from the stress of the charrette

Working at a sustainable pace and avoiding the regular charrette is better for you, your project, and your project team. One of the principles of agile is to work at a sustainable pace. Mike Cohn in his book "Succeding With Agile" compares a team working at a sustainable pace to that of a marathon runner running a race. Sometimes when required, the runner needs to run faster or harder, but not all the time. The same is true during a sprint; sometimes a team needs to kick it up a notch to finish work, but not all the time.

Next time you are on a project and start planning a sprint, ask yourself; “do I want to be on the charrette at the end of this sprint?”. If the answer to this question is “no” then start talking to your team and determine how to avoid the charrette. You will be glad you did.

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Back in the day of the Herring Hall basement more then not the "charrette" was out of control. The professor, or project manager, would give us final critques one class period befor the project was due. It was almost expected of you to be up all night finishing the projec. A sort of Landscape Architectural rite of passage. In reality if you plan out a projectand everything runs smooth deadlines should not be a problem. However there are always last minute changes to the scope which may require additional ddsign revisions. If so then the deadline should be adjusted to accommodate the changes. However this rarely seem sto happen. Everyone expects you to complete the project in the same time frame.Which usually results in a "charrette". Its a mad, mad world we live and work in. Posted @ Thursday, August 04, 2011 12:14 PM by Gary Blanford

Hey Alan! What a great little article. I'm going to share it with the staff since I know they don't know the origin just as I didn't (until my enlightenment just now). and I htought you left the LA scene long ago. Tucson Peccaries are lunching very soon to celebrate the Monsoon Madness before it ends- we have had a FANTASTIC one this year! Miss all you other Peccaries...maybe it's time to get together. Do Pete and Randy and I have to lead the charge again?! Posted @ Thursday, August 04, 2011 8:57 PM by Sandy Bolduc

What I remember is how hot it was down there as we were working not to drip sweat onto our projects and drawings. I swore I'd never do another all nighter after getting done with school but I can't tell you how many I've actually done since. I would be willing to assist Glen in getting another organized. We might be able to have Snapper assist when needed for local face to face as needed. Steve PS Pam is still MIA as is Trey Posted @ Friday, August 05, 2011 10:09 AM by Stephen R. Copley 

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