Don’t Interrupt the Doers
We get called in occasionally because a company’s leaders don’t feel that their product development is happening rapidly enough. They recall how fast the product evolved when the company was first started and they want that pace again. There are many reasons for the pace of development to have slowed. Certainly one of the more popular catch phrases that people use is technical debt, which is a metaphor to explain the eventual consequences of fast paced development. As you incur technical debt, your pace of development slows.
I think there is another factor that is equally or possibly more responsible for slowing the pace of development, interruptions. Engineers need large blocks of uninterrupted time to think, design, plan, code, and test. Disrupting an engineer during these tasks often require a wholesale reset of their thought process. There have been lots of studies that support this one such study found that when tasks were interrupted people require upwards of 27% more time to complete, commit twice the number of errors, and experience twice the increase in anxiety as compared to uninterrrupted tasks. And, as a recent CNN article explained, this problem of disruptions affecting our productivity gets worse as we get older.
So what is interrupting engineers? I’d wager it’s predominantly meetings. While communicating, coordinating, interviewing, etc are all very important for engineers to participate in, doing so in a haphazard manner can be devasting to productivity. In this competitive hiring environment, interruptions might just be driving your engineers out the door. Try a few of these suggestions to reduce interruptions for engineers:
- Have at least one day per week where meetings are not allowed
- Only allow meetings at the beginning or end of the day
- Require all meetings to have agendas and goals
- Question standing meetings to ensure all participants are necessary
While measuring productivity is incredibly difficult most organizations can feel when the pace of development has slowed. Reduce the interruptions of your engineers and see if this doesn’t help increase the pace again.