notes from retro: reducing distractions

By our Agile cadence at SendGrid, team retrospectives (and demos) fall every other Tuesday. Today one of my teams is coming up with a focused set of actions to try to solve the problem of distractions / context-switching.

This team deals with many of our system-critical services (mail processing and delivery), so it’s staffed with really smart folks. (Well, really smart folks are on all our teams, but the features these folks work on receive a bit more attention than others.) They get interrupted often with everything from questions about our daemons and architecture to brain-teaser solutions and lego designs. Distractions are just part of the day for all of us (bacon, beer and crossfit are other biggies , but this team has put their foot down, resolving to do something about it.

Some of the steps may seem like no-brainers, and the teams may have tried a few of these in the past, but maybe they lost the discipline. Other ideas are new to the team.

make afternoons meeting-free

Some meetings (we call them ‘ceremonies’) are a valuable/necessary part of our Agile/Scrum process here: daily stand-ups, sprint planning, backlog grooming, demos and retrospectives. Aside from those, there come (occasional) meetings that pull in the tech leads from across teams and (more frequent) interviews of awesome candidates (have I mentioned that we’re hiring?).

It’s been a challenge for us to go entirely without meetings – this week we’ve been consumed with 2013 planning – but this team wants to limit their involvement to morning-times only. They’ve proposed designating the hours from 1:00 to 4:00 pm as “no meeting zones”. The idea is to give the team a long block of time in which they can focus on developing without context-switching.

pomodoros

Additionally, the team has decided to try using pomodoro – a time management technique that basically tells us to work uninterrupted for 25 minutes then get up / walk around / take a break for five. The size of time-boxes may vary, and longer breaks come after every four pomodori. Other teams here have used it with generally very positive results. The key is to let everyone else know not to interrupt you as you’re in the work period.

finding a quieter home

Our Anaheim office has a wide-open floor plan. With only a handful of offices and breakout rooms in our 4500 square feet, we encourage mobility and self-organization. The trouble is that this team, prone to interruptions due to their function, also has their desks grouped in the high-traffic area between the beer-room and the rec center. By re-locating their desks to a quieter space off the beaten path, we give the team a space of their own in which they can thwart invaders earlier and easier.

The goal of these changes is to have the team apply more focus to their work, the work they love but have been unable to concentrate on. With the changes that the team decided on, we’re hoping that these goals are reached in some amount.

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