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Choosing your own greener grass

A lot of my time is spent trying to arrange projects and schedules so we can get code shipped in a reasonable time. AMO has the blessing/curse of being broad enough that there is work to do in nearly every area on the site. Once the highest priority areas have people working on them there is still plenty of work to go around that isn’t as time critical.

Last March there was some feedback from developers about being tired of the code they were working on and eyeing other technologies but not having the time to work with them. This is a fragile balance which every manager and developer has had to struggle with. Writing new code is always sexier than maintaining old code, but the old code is the bread and butter that keeps you in business. Finding a happy medium is a noble, elusive, and unfortunately, shifting goal.

Enjoying what you work on is crucial to being happy and productive though so I’ll continue to pursue that goal.

One of the changes we experimented with at the time was to let developers choose their own focus for the quarter. We still had high level quarterly goals that needed to be done, but that left plenty of other time throughout the quarter to work on any of those areas which were all equally important but perhaps not equally as interesting. I filled up a whiteboard with ideas one morning (and left space for developers to add more) and we had a meeting later in the day where anyone could discuss the ideas and sign up for what was interesting to them. This was a short term commitment from the developers and they got to work on what they cared about. From a managerial perspective, it increased motivation but didn’t sacrifice accountability. Since I knew the focus of the developers early in the quarter, I could help clear out roadblocks that they’d meet before they even started working on their areas.

The quarter is over this week and overall the idea was a success. All the feedback from developers was positive – if you’re looking for a way to spice up the top-down approach to goal setting this was effective. It also turned the goal setting into more of a discussion rather than an edict that just shows up.

I wrote this almost 9 months ago but apparently never hit publish. So, here it is. We’ve played with it a bit since but haven’t had a large quarterly planning meeting like that because we’re mainly focused on the marketplace. Experimenting with smaller goals is a next step here, and doing the meetings on a weekly or biweekly basis.