Breaking Habits

We engineers try to create good habits all the time “Daily standups” and “a retrospective every sprint” are habits introduced by agile methodologies. “Write tests that drive your code” and “review before you commit” are examples during development. Also for the sake of working together peacefully we establish habits.

There are good reasons for the habits we try to encourage, and we reap plenty benefits from a well-running machine once those habits are in place.

Let's break them.

Yes, I believe it's very healthy to break habits. Even the very useful ones. Every now and then, at least.

Why? Because they are tiring. You need a break from the habit “work”, no? Because the break validates our assumption that it is still useful. Because change keeps the mind sharp. Because of what if.

Broken Habits So Far

We're using HipChat at engageSPARK, because some team members are remote, and because it's a non-interruptive way to get someone's attention eventually. On the downside, chatting is less effective than talking, and chatting tends to be distracting. So, we broke that habit:

No chatting for a day.

Infathomable to some at first, it worked out well. Things got done and communicated. Still using HipChat.

GitHub is another tool we use: We create PRs, review them, merge or reject them. But because GitHub makes the review process so easy (and useful for multi-person discussion) we have a habit of reviewing online only. No talking. Personally, I think talking is super important in a team. So, for three days the standing order was:

Only real-life reviews. Summary of the discussion can be added as comments to the PR.

That worked out very well. I believe (And how could I to measure? hipchat frequency?) we're now talking more. :p

The other day, Zak and I were talking about deep work. Creating an immersed state of mind for highly focussed work. Well, we're a startup. We're always on the move, and a thousand things need to be discussed all the time. Or do they? This week, we're going to break the habit of being available all the time. For three days

we create time windows without distractions.

Every discussion that can be postponed, is postponed. And, who knows? Maybe this one actually becomes a habit.

Possible Future Habits to Break

Here's some things I want to try in the weeks and months to come:

  • Usually you pair with someone familiar with the technology. That makes sense. What happens when you don't? Pair with someone not from your technology-team.
  • Same with discussing design proposals. Explain your design to someone curious, but completely unfamiliar with the topic or even technology.
  • Standups, why do we always do them in the same boring spot in the office? Let's do standups on the rooftop terrace!

Let's move fast and break habits!