Decision making, problem solving, introducing ideas, being influencial
The often undervalued activities in software development
7 min read
7 min read
Usually when people think about software development, they just have the typical nerds in mind, shy but smart, introvert people sitting in (often) dark rooms hammering down obscure instruction sets on their keyboards. Instead, software development has to do a lot more with people than many would expect. In fact at this year’s QCon London there are entire tracks and tutorials focusing on the people aspect in software development.
One of those was Linda Rising’s tutorial focusing on the cognitive aspects, on how we make decision and how decisions are made, what affects them and what helps yourself make better ones. Linda encouraged us to put down some tips to stick with during the talk. Here are mine, with my own interpretation of the things that have been mentioned during the session based on Linda’s suggestions and comments.
Tip 1 - Have a glass of water in front of you
Drinking water keeps your brain (and body) from de-hydrating. By having a glass of water in front of you, automatically you’ll have a drink and thus remain more fresh and concentrated. Pay attention with caffeine though, one cup of coffee should be enough per day (so Linda) which brings me to the next point.
Tip 2 - You should really sleep more!!
Developers should really sleep more. My Jawbone shows I’m sleeping about ~7h per night on average, a bit less on weekdays and a bit more on weekends usually. That’s below the 7h30m global average, so I should definitely get more, I know :(.
But really…there is so much interesting stuff to try out and to experiment with. A common mistake that’s made by all of us is the fact that we think we loose time by sleeping. Instead, it allows the brain to relax, to recover and digest what we learned during the day.
You should sleep for more than 7h30m per night on average.
Tip 3 - Is it really randomized??
All people have and live from are hypes and stories… Linda Rising
…only very few actually have the time to read and study scientific case studies to undermine their decisions. What we do is to look up the internet, our favorite news sites, blogs, magazines and based on that knowledge we detract our own point of view which heavily influences the final decision.
We should pay particular attention on that. Are the statements/stories plausible? Are they based upon experiments, are they randomized?? Or did someone want a certain approach to be successful by allocating the best people on it? Or was it a well done randomized experiment with a target and control group and maybe even a placebo group as well. Also watch out for the Hawthorne effect :)
Obviously we rarely have all this data at hand when we have to draw our decisions, but by posing ourselves those questions, we might be able to perceive certain stories or hypes from a different standpoint.
Tip 4 - Stand up more often!
Similarly as with sleep, just stand up more often. By standing up (or for the more crazy ones even by lying down on the floor), people get a different perspective on the things, literally a different point of view which positively influences the decision making process - that’s what scientific studies apparently say. Actually that’s a point where I still have some objections, but it might be worth trying.
Instead, I fully agree that standing desks may have a positive influence on your concentration, your posture etc, and I’d love to try one out. (Maybe I could get one for my home office.)
You should never sit for more than 1h30m in a row.
In fact, in our “agile pilot group” we’re having standup meetings (twice a week for now) and it is really refreshing and a different experience to stand, instead of to sit around the meeting table. When you sit down, your brain relaxes, you become passive (as you just came from your office where you were sitting as well). By standing you definitely remain more active, ready to react, to contribute to the meeting.
The whole point of standing up more often is to relax, to help your brain digest and ultimately make you more performant. That’s why many companies have dedicated office kitchens, table-tennis or even “napping/rest rooms”. I’m convinced such facilities help people stay motivated and motivation is a very (if not the most) important factor for getting high productivity. These places make your offices more awesome and there will be more and better social interaction, which ultimately again results in a benefit for the corporation.
And still, and that has been confirmed by feedback from people in the audience, there is always the feeling like I’m not productive when I’m power-napping, or relaxing for 10min on a massage chair. People have a bad conscience, they feel guilty somehow, and I would probably do as well, even if I knew it helps me stay more productive. I can just tell it from my (very few) occasions of working from home, how much it can help you to solve a problem faster by having a little walk outside in the fresh air, instead of staring at the computer. You’re working anyway, while walking you manipulate your mental model to ultimately come up with a solution which you then implement once you’re back in front of your machine. And still, it feels wrong, doesn’t it? If someone pings me on Skype while I’m on my walk, they’ll think I’m not working, probably watching TV or doing something else..
All in all, it really depends on the company and people culture.
These tips do not only apply to your own, but also when having meetings, when discussing something with your colleagues. If you happen to enter an argument, Linda suggests to go outside, have a walk in the park (in a nice environment obviously, don’t go when it’s raining) and chat about the problem. By walking side-by-side you get the same viewpoint and there is a higher probability of a better and more satisfying outcome.
Tip 5 - Leave your comfort zone
This is something Linda mentioned shortly as well and it is something most of us particularly struggle at. To leave your “comfort zone”, to approach similar problems differently than you would normally and thus to give your brain the possibility to come up with another solution, maybe a better one or even a worse. The problem is that by exposing us to new situations, we don’t know how we’ll perform, we get vulnerable and that’s why most people resist of doing so.
Just be open for the new and different as that’ll keep your creativity high.
Tip 6 - Take 10!
People often tend to react instinctively, that’s how we’re build after all and it is not necessarily a bad thing. However, especially when a decision has to be made and people fear to not get what they desire, they’ll tend to block everything, like “if I can’t get what I want, NOBODY shall get anything”. Apparently science has proved that by having, together, a 10 minutes break just before the decision making, you can avoid such destructive behavior.
This one might be interesting to try in practice :)
Tip 7 - Get them some cookies!
Our decision process is not rational at all. Much more often it depends on feelings, emotional state, controlled by our unconscious, dominant part of the brain. Thus you should definitely get cookies and coffee for your mates :). It is all about establishing social relationships.
This is something I guess we have all experienced by ourselves. By establishing a less formal environment and by having - for instance - a coffee together, it is much easier to come up with a proper decision rather than by sitting in a meeting room, one in front of the other, throwing pros and cons against each other.
Many of these points might sound quite obvious, like common sense. And still, pay attention on how often we simply ignore them.
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