Back in 2009 Paul Graham wrote a great article that described the vastly different calendars of managers and makers. TL;DR: Makers need large blocks of time to be productive, and context switching kills their focus. Software engineers are a good example of a Maker. While it seems the majority of folks are happy to be working remotely most of the time, I believe this environment exacerbates the problem Paul was highlighting.
Managers still think of their day in 30 minute blocks. However, we no longer have breaks in between meetings we used to need to walk to a new conference room or office. It’s easier than ever to find the next half hour block that works for everyone you need to talk to. I don’t have to worry that they were in a meeting right before or after because switching to the next meeting only takes a few seconds. People also seem to regard start and end of day norms less than before, with meetings now going far past when most people would have been on the road driving home.
As a result, manager schedules are more full than ever before. When trying to grab time with people we’re seeing more and more contention. I hear from folks that they are in back to back meetings every day. It’s almost a twisted badge of honor now - a sort of corporate hustle culture. And it’s affecting our makers disproportionately.
The nature of the work of our makers hasn’t changed. As Paul pointed out years ago, they still think of their day in two large blocks. But now their managers are running ragged in back to back meetings all day, so the number of times a Maker gets pulled into one of those meetings has gone up significantly.
Their personalities haven’t changed: they still feel subservient to the manager schedule. Many don’t want to miss an opportunity to impress a senior leader and build a case for their next promotion. So they are highly unlikely to decline a meeting invite without a lot of encouragement to do so.
The solution I am trying is to first make it clear to every manager that this is a problem they have to help solve. Every team is a bit different, so I like to federate the solutioning. Here are some solutions that seem to be working:
- Work with agile coaches and scrum masters to organize scrum ceremonies into contiguous blocks
- Allow the team to establish collaboration times for developers to work together without having to book a meeting. Many of our teams do this right after daily standup.
- Modify the team working agreement to protect large blocks of time and have team members block this out on their calendars. This way all the developers on the team are on similar schedules. Many of our teams are establishing the afternoons for this.
You must make sure Makers feel safe declining a meeting that conflicts with their focus time. Surprisingly, this has been the biggest challenge. However, and somewhat ironically, I recently had an engineer reply back to an invite from me asking for a more clear agenda so they could decide whether they needed to attend, which brought a huge smile to my face. We’re getting better.
This post is part of a series I’m putting together on leadership oriented lessons I’ve learned over the past year and a half. If you have suggestions on topics please reach out via LinkedIn