Interruptions – Part 1

You’ve probably heard, interruptions are a productivity killer.

A white paper from the University of California, Irvine (my alma mater), finds that on average the time cost of an interruption is 23 minutes and 15 seconds of lost productivity while trying to get back on task. Stack up several interruptions in a single day and over an hour of productivity is going to waste! So how does this relate to leading software teams?

We’ve decided in the software industry that chat (such as Slack, Hipchat, etc.) is a positive thing for team communication and while that can be true (especially for remote teams) we’ve inadvertently invited a massive amount of interruption into our team’s day.

As a tech lead, your focus is status updates, project timelines, stakeholder conversations, and the like. Many times you will need more information than you currently possess to make informed decisions, track progress, and to communicate effectively.

I encourage you to limit when and how you reach out to your team members.

It’s so easy to crank out a message in #general asking for information from the entire team. The feedback is usually immediate and then you’re back to what you were doing. Meanwhile, you’ve left a productivity disaster in your wake. Really…it’s selfish. You’ve probably seen this cartoon, but I have to share it because it speaks to what I am saying so flawlessly.

This is why you shouldn't interrupt a programmer

Don’t be that tech lead. Your team (as well as your clients and profit margin) will thank you.

How do we communicate with our team while causing the smallest disturbance?

  • Always ask first
    You are a leader in your organization and should hold some level of authority. Developers will be inclined to allow you to interrupt their flow because they work for you. Respect this fact by asking if now is a good time and offering to put off the distraction if it’s not.
  • Schedule in advance
    By scheduling your distractions, you are letting your team know in advance that you need their time. They will work around your meeting and avoid jumping into tasks that cannot be interrupted. Don’t make the mistake of underestimating the cost of these scheduled meetings. More on that in a future email!
  • Scope your conversations
    Odds are not everyone needs to hear what you have to say or has enough knowledge to respond to your questions. Scope your communications down to the fewest number of individuals possible to avoid distracting innocent bystanders. There is a time to communicate with everyone on your team but use that megaphone only when necessary.

In my next post, I’ll share more about interruptions and your “open door” policy as a tech lead.