Jeff Strickler

Developer Productivity

Before even leaving her bed, she reaches for her phone to review a dozen emails. On the bus on the way to the office, her phone rings with her boss asking for information he needs for a meeting later in the morning. Once at the office, her office mate, new to the company, catches her with a question that takes thirty minutes to explain. She has maybe an hour until the daily standing meeting, which while scheduled for five minutes, will consume much of an hour between the actual meeting and its fallout. She’ll have maybe an hour after that until she has to decide whether to do what’s good for her health and grab lunch or a workout, or what’s needed to get the job done, IE: stay at her desk. In the afternoon the scrum master drops by for an update, and she spends another 30 minutes updating the Kanban board. Her boss needs a status update before end of business. Then they meet up for a spring review meeting. As the end of the day nears, she debates whether to leave early so that she can beat the commute, or stay until after rush hour and not be home until late.

And you wonder where developer productivity is going?

  • Daily meetings are exactly akin to making quarterly numbers for the street: short-term lies designed to appease stakeholders. They interrupt focus and incentivize the perception of productivity over reality.
  • Communication tools like Slack and email can be incredibly productive, but much like shiny objects, they cause context switching and loss of focus. Rather than demand developers be responsive 24×7, instead encourage them to set aside specific time to answer email and specific time they are willing to be responsive to chat messages.
  • First published in 1987, the lessons of the book Peopleware still hold true. Context switches, such as casual interruptions, consume a multiple of the interaction time. Keep these to a minimum and encourage team members to respect each others need for concentration.
  • Project management tools are useful, but their overhead must be balanced against that usefulness. Encourage greater automation and don’t let matrix management overwhelm your team.

Cargo cult science, a phrase first used by physicist Richard Feynman, describes practices that have a semblance of being scientific, but in fact are misunderstood ritual. The original Agile Manifesto emphasized teams embracing practices that worked given their specific circumstances, but have been misconstrued into cargo cult behaviors. Productive teams will get back to basics and do the things that work for them, rather than blindly following fads.

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