Amazon.com Widgets April 2012

Tweet Expansion: Butt Time and Brain Time

By Nick at April 29, 2012 08:53
Filed Under: Delphi, Leadership, Software Development, Tweet Expansion

A while back I tweeted the following:

In software development, we often measure Butt Time, when what we need from developers is Brain Time -- which is much harder to measure.

Some tweets call for further explanation and expansion, and so I’ve added a new category called Tweet Expansion to cover posts that do just that.

Here at Gateway Ticketing, we have an interesting development and business model.  At our core, we are an ISV.  We sell a software package that we build to customers.  But, we also will customize our software to meet customer specifications.  That makes us sort of a VAR to our own product.  Thus, we do both enhancements based on customer requests and our own internal product development projects to make our product more valuable in the marketplace. 

This distinction – between internal projects and projects driven by specific customer requirements – makes for some challenging project management.  But we have a solid team here at Gateway, and we make it all work.  But because we do work that amounts to us being consultants, we end up having to closely track our developer time.  We do that for a number of business reasons, the main one, of course, is profitability.  You need to track your time to ensure that you are actually making money on a given endeavor.

Now I know that no one really likes to track their time.  It’s a pain.  It’s challenging to be accurate.  It’s hard to get time properly categorized.  But it is also invaluable for making those important business decisions. 

But there is a bigger problem with measuring time.  The only thing you can really measure is “Butt Time”.  Butt Time is the actual amount of time someone has their butt in a chair while working on an issue.  You need Butt Time to get any work done, of course.

But Butt Time isn’t really what you want from your developers.  Butt Time isn’t at all equivalent to productive development time.  Butt Time includes reading email, answering questions and generally handling any number of interruptions, meetings, and other distractions.  And those distractions, however minor, break a developer’s concentration.

And when you get right down to it, development is all about concentration.  With a coding project of any size at all, doing development requires your complete focus and concentration.  You need to build up complex data structures and patterns in your mind in order to really be productive.  Doing so takes time --  I’ve heard it described as building a house of cards in your mind.  Building that house of cards can take upwards of fifteen minutes depending upon the project.  But here’s the bummer:  It only takes a second for that house of cards to come tumbling down.  One distraction can make your fifteen minute investment disappear. 

And of course, time spent in “The Zone” – with that house of cards constructed and true, highly productive work getting done – is what we all are seeking.  We’ve all probably had that awesome experience of getting into that zone for hours at a time and wondering where the time went.  We know how cool that is – and how precious.  That’s what we want to measure – Brain Time.

But that’s a really hard thing to do.  Getting accurate, meaningful Butt Time measurements is difficult enough.  But how in the world can you actually measure Brain Time?

I’ll argue that you really can’t.  In the end, Butt Time is only a poor proxy for Brain Time.  What we need to do is to try to increase the Butt Time to Brain Time ratio by providing an environment where Brain Time is maximized as a percentage of total Butt Time.

There are ways to do that – ensuring that your developers have an office with a door that they can close is an important first step.  The book Peopleware is really the Bible for this, and Joel Spolsky has talked a lot about it as well.  Uninterrupted quite time is the key.  Leaving developers alone is the key to maximizing Brain Time.

Seriously – you need to get and read Peopleware if you have anything at all to do with leading developers.  This is the definitive book on managing software developers.  Be sure to get the Second Edition.  The physical book is, I believe, out of print, causing the price to be pretty high,  but I was delighted to notice that you can now order it on the Kindle

Another thing we need to do is to respect – indeed, celebrate – those developers that are quiet and don’t say much.  We have a not small number of developers here at Gateway that, well, don’t say much at all.  They come to work, write great code, and go home.  They don’t have a lot to say.  But sadly, we don’t always respect this.  I’m as guilty of anyone of too often saying super-clever things like “Stop being so boisterous, Meredith” or “Did you say six words today?”, instead of recognizing that Meredith is maximizing her Brain Time and, by being quiet, not breaking other team members’ concentration.  Being quiet is a very valuable virtue in a software developer – both because they themselves are being productive and they aren’t breaking other’s concentration -- and we should give honor and respect to that.

Butt Time is easy to come by and fairly easy to measure.  Brain Time, however, is a precious and hard to measure commodity that needs to be nurtured and respected.

Flotsam and Jetsam #59

By Nick at April 23, 2012 05:39
Filed Under: Flotsam and Jetsam
  • The comments are working again.  My apologies go out to those folks who were kind enough to try to comment but weren’t able to.  I don’t know what the problem was – it went away when I deleted my “Little boxes” box in the sidebar.  When I rebuilt it using pretty much the same code, it all kept on working.  Gremlins, I guess.  In any event, all should be well, and thank you to those of you who took the time to let me know about the problem.
  • More on Delphi Marketing:  I wrote about Delphi marketing a little while back, and here’s more proof that they are busy and really doing a great job.  Tim Del Chiaro has the list of online webinar and events that happened just in the first quarter of this year alone. That is a very long and interesting list of webinars you can view to learn about Embarcadero products, what they can do, and why you might want to buy them.  That’s what marketing folks do – let you know that the product exists, what it does and why you need it.  More good stuff continues to come out of the folks in Scotts Valley, and you should be giving credit where credit is due if you aren’t.
  • I’m a big fan of Documentation Insight by DevJet, and they have recently released version 2.0 of this great IDE tool. I heartily recommend that you buy it and start writing /// comments for your library code – and any code at all, for that matter.  Visit the What’s New page for information about this excellent tool. 
  • Jeff Duntemann pointed to these really cool pictures of the interior of the Hindenburg.  Now, of course, the name “Hindenburg” is synonymous with “horrible, flaming disaster”, but one would assume that had the thing not been filled with hopelessly flammable hydrogen, that blimp travel might have become popular.  I don’t know about you, but I think that a trip on such a ship would be really, really cool.  Blimps are a common site today – no big sporting event happens without the famous overhead shots from the Goodyear Blimp – and I for one would love to take a trip across the United States in a blimp at a reasonable altitude for seeing the sites.  I’m surprised such a service isn’t available – I can’t imagine that I’d be alone in such a desire.
  • Dennis Landi – long time Delphi guy – is looking for a Delphi developer in the Washington, DC area.  

Comments Working.

By Nick at April 21, 2012 23:27
Filed Under: General

Okay, it looks like comments are working now.  

It seems that my little box of flair (links to Facebook, etc) was causing the problem.  I deleted it for now.

What a bother.

Comments Broken?

By Nick at April 11, 2012 10:05
Filed Under: General

I notice that I haven't had any comments since April 1, and now I've gotten some emails from some of you kind folks pointing out that commenting doesn't work.  

Is that still the case? (Feel free to answer at nickhodges@gmail.com if it is....)

Sorry about that -- I'm not sure what the issue is.

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