I think that when you work as a software tester, it’s important to have your mind trained to spot things and follow the logic of an application, so the capacity to focus is a key element. We are a team of software testers working in an open space office, but on different projects. One day, I realized that we started to talk or chat if we had something in mind, without checking first if the others were busy or not. Whenever I wanted to know what the progress was with some tests, I just raised my voice and asked my colleagues how we stand. Whenever I remembered something interesting I started telling the story. They were questions, news, concerns or whatever had happened to me during the previous day:
“- Did you reply to the client’s latest email?”
“- I’ve just read that passive smoking causes hearing loss”
“- Do you know Radio Lab? They make great radio shows with scientific topics.”
“- Can you please add in the report what we have and what we haven’t covered during tests?”
“- Have you heard about Wikileaks and Assange? Did you check a cable from their website?” (no link here, for safety reasons ;))
I think communication was great in our team, everybody asked questions face-to-face, discussed issues from the project they were working on and talked about many different aspects, test related or not.
But one day I asked myself if all these interruptions were good or not. Should we promote ‘silence’? Would I work better if I were more focused on a specific task? And would the others work better if I left them alone?
The very next evening I noticed a TEDx talk that caught my eye: Why work doesn’t happen at work….
I first thought it was about something else… I’m interested in making the office a place where you feel very good and where you can work in a relaxed and familiar environment.
So I clicked on the video:
(WATCH THE VIDEO BEFORE READING FORWARD, it’s only 15 minutes!)
My first reaction was to say that the guy is an old fashioned, pre-google era guy working in an HR department. The next day I went to work and decided to start an experiment: No talk on that Tuesday (instead of Thursday) – to see if there’s any applicability value for us in his theory.
The agreement was that nobody talks to any of the colleagues directly. The ‘rules’ were that
- We use chat and email if you want to talk to people instead of the face-to-face conversation. This way, we have the option to choose whether we want to be interrupted or not.
- Any person that failed to do this and spoke loudly interrupting the colleagues outside the 1 hour lunch break had to put 5 RON (~1.15 EUR) in the ‘office piggy bank’ that we use to buy fruits for all of us.
I was the winner, as I broke the rule unintentionally twice! So it cost me 10 RON.
At the end of the day, I asked everybody what they thought about the experiment, if they were able to focus and how they found it. They all had some common answers (experiment’s initial feedback):
Not being interrupted can help them concentrate better, but after a while they felt sleepy. The communication efficiency was pretty much affected during this extreme experiment. They all found the rule too restrictive and that it was tiring to talk complex work aspects over IM…and also less effective.
Me personally? I loved it!! I started to notice how efficient I was on a task if I didn’t defocus that often.
So I decided to find a set of recommendations as an optimized version of the initial experiment to help us all work better. Some people can focus back to their task very quickly after being interrupted, some need more time. So, can we create a set of rules that work for all of us?
The first version was something like this:
- All the to-do items are to be discussed loudly in the morning for about 15 minutes through either scheduled meetings or ad-hoc ones, without any decibels restrictions.
- Later on, if you have a more complex aspect that you want to talk about with your colleagues about, ask them first on chat or email if they have time (and when). If they agree to talk to you, keep your voice low or go into a meeting room.
- Any phone calls and meetings are taken outside the office or in a meeting room.
- Talk as much as you want during the 1 hour lunch break 🙂
- Loud talking session in the afternoon: 15 min. That’s when people start to feel a little bit sleepy.
- You can interrupt people at the end of the program, at least to say goodbye 😀
Then I checked again after 2 more months to see the results and here’s what I found out:
- some people were not happy with the fact that the upper list had the name ‘rules‘, even though they were actually recommendations, as they had never been enforced (but this is another topic that I may address in another post)
- the same people that were not happy with the rules preferred the headphones instead of having the rules in place (I wonder why..)
- some considered that these rules affected their efficiency in communicating with the rest of the team
- some considered the experiment and the rules beneficial (just a minority).
The purpose of the experiment and the follow up is to see if there’s any value in Jason’s theory on increased efficiency when people are not interrupted.
If I am to draw a conclusion from it at this point, this would be: the real value of the theory and the experiment is to make people aware of how important it is for them and for others to be able to focus. I think that the way each team juggles with focusing and defocusing operations should be up to them and not enforced by rules or recommendations. This requires ‘team agreement’ and not just using headphones to isolate oneself.
This experiment is worth doing to check what is the need of focus and how important is to avoid interruptions. If there are any others out there who have tried the same experiment with their teams, I would love to hear their results.