My thoughts on management & time tracking

So I’ve talked about time tracking before, however that was much more a “Keep yourself on track / how to know what to bill per hour as a freelancer/contractor”. Today I’d like to share some thoughts on bigger companies and my feelings toward management and time tracking there.

I’ll preface all this with “these are my opinions, I’m not saying I’m entirely correct here, this is just how I personally feel“.

As a programmer I love my craft, I spend hours playing around with new technologies, learning new languages and wrapping my head around computer science concepts. I’ve always known programming would be my career from a young age, finding it amazing that people would pay me to do what I love to do anyway. 🙂

What I never realised back then is how much of a programming role involves no programming at all. Meetings can be a daily occurrence, eating into your time, understandable though as things do need to be decided on/signed off.  Managers need you to explain all sorts of stuff to them so that they can sound informed to whoever it is that they report to. Clients want you to explain why you can’t add five new features by next week. Customers want you to explain how to use things (and occasionally need you to fix things).. Priorities must be juggled. 😀

All of the above I don’t really have an issue with, they are mildly annoying but to be fair, necessary evils.

What I do have an issue with however is time tracking on top of this in large organisations, usually so your manager can have some form of chart showing what their team have spent their time on the last few weeks. Of course this would all be possible without disturbing the programmers workflow at all  (since we all have issue management systems) but the word “granularity” starts getting thrown around and the next thing you know you’re now in JIRA logging hours on tickets trying to justify where you spend every minute of your day.

I honestly don’t get it.

I feel as a developer getting told to do this makes you feel that you are not trusted to manage what little time you have to do programming yourself. That you’re possibly under performing and need to work harder. Or that your time isn’t as valuable as the managers time. All in the name of a granular report that probably gets a courtesy glance at and then binned.  It definitely doesn’t create a happy team environment.

If you haven’t read Programmer Interrupted, I recommend that you do, but I’ll just include the results of their study here:

  • A programmer takes 10-15 minutes to start editing code after resuming work from an interruption.
  • When interrupted during an edit of a method, a programmer resumed work in less than a minute only 10 percent of the time.
  • A programmer is likely to get just one uninterrupted two-hour session in a day.

These are the problems that management should be trying to solve, not trying to interrupt a programmers time further by requiring that they log each and every hour that they’ve spent on each feature.

Another great article that discusses how programmers see time different to managers is the Makers Schedule.

Where I currently work (Kobas) actually deals with all of these things I’m complaining about very well. For a start there is no time tracking (making me very happy), we have a daily slack stand-up (i guess its more sit down?) where we give a few sentences of what we worked on yesterday and what we plan to do today. It’s very helpful for knowing what other people are up to without wasting time doing an actual stand-up.

Interruption wise at any point i feel I need to have an uninterrupted session I can pop in my headphones and unless something explodes I never get interrupted. Meetings for me are rare but when they occur they have an actual purpose. Developers != Support leading to less interruptions, of course I have to fix problems that come up from support but I’m not personally being interrupted by support requests.

So its certainly possible for companies to function well in these ways, why more big companies aren’t is beyond me. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯