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Unearthing the Quirk: Dealing with File Access Issues that arise from Resource Optimization in Android Applications the Quirk: Dealing with File Access Issues that arise from Resource Optimization in Android Applications<p>While technological advancements often make processes more efficient, they can sometimes introduce unexpected challenges. This is exemplified by the Android Gradle Plugin from version 4.2 onwards, which introduced resource optimization. This process is designed to reduce APK size and increase efficiency, but it also includes changes to file names in the resources directory.</p><p>For instance, if an Android application is designed to read localization strings from files stored in the raw subdirectory of the resources folder using a file path, this optimization process could create an obstacle. After the optimization process concludes, the file path could be obfuscated, changing, for example, from <code>res/raw/strings.xml</code> to something like <code>res/Gh4.xml</code>. This unexpected change can cause issues with accessing the required files.</p><blockquote><p>For further information about these optimizations, you can refer to Jake Wharton’s detailed article titled <a href="">Smaller APKs with Resource Optimization</a>. This write-up provides a deeper understanding of the resource optimization process in Android development, which is central to the issue discussed in our article.</p></blockquote><h2 id="when-optimization-gets-tricky">When Optimization Gets Tricky</h2><p>During its operation, Gradle executes the ‘optimizeReleaseResources’ task which entails invoking the Android Asset Packaging Tool (AAPT) binary to operate on the assembled APK file.</p><blockquote><p>For a more detailed look into the specifics of how this task operates, you can refer to the source code available on <a href="">Google’s Android Project repository</a>.</p></blockquote><p>The optimizeReleaseRes task executes the following lines of code:</p><pre class=" language-kotlin"><code class="prism language-kotlin"><span class="token keyword">val</span> optimizeFlags <span class="token operator">=</span> mutableSetOf<span class="token operator"><</span>String<span class="token operator">></span><span class="token punctuation">(</span><span class="token punctuation">)</span> <span class="token keyword">if</span> <span class="token punctuation">(</span>params<span class="token punctuation">.</span>enableResourceObfuscation<span class="token punctuation">)</span> <span class="token punctuation">{</span> optimizeFlags <span class="token operator">+=</span> AAPT2OptimizeFlags<span class="token punctuation">.</span>COLLAPSE_RESOURCE_NAMES<span class="token punctuation">.</span>flag <span class="token punctuation">}</span> <span class="token keyword">if</span> <span class="token punctuation">(</span>params<span class="token punctuation">.</span>enableResourcePathShortening<span class="token punctuation">)</span> <span class="token punctuation">{</span> optimizeFlags <span class="token operator">+=</span> AAPT2OptimizeFlags<span class="token punctuation">.</span>SHORTEN_RESOURCE_PATHS<span class="token punctuation">.</span>flag <span class="token punctuation">}</span> <span class="token keyword">if</span> <span class="token punctuation">(</span>params<span class="token punctuation">.</span>enableSparseResourceEncoding<span class="token punctuation">)</span> <span class="token punctuation">{</span> optimizeFlags <span class="token operator">+=</span> AAPT2OptimizeFlags<span class="token punctuation">.</span>ENABLE_SPARSE_ENCODING<span class="token punctuation">.</span>flag <span class="token punctuation">}</span> <span class="token function">invokeAapt</span><span class="token punctuation">(</span> params<span class="token punctuation">.</span>aapt2Executable<span class="token punctuation">,</span> <span class="token string">"optimize"</span><span class="token punctuation">,</span> params<span class="token punctuation">.</span>inputApkFile<span class="token punctuation">.</span>path<span class="token punctuation">,</span> <span class="token operator">*</span>optimizeFlags<span class="token punctuation">.</span><span class="token function">toTypedArray</span><span class="token punctuation">(</span><span class="token punctuation">)</span><span class="token punctuation">,</span> <span class="token string">"-o"</span><span class="token punctuation">,</span> params<span class="token punctuation">.</span>outputApkFile<span class="token punctuation">.</span>path <span class="token punctuation">)</span> </code></pre><p>and maps enum values to the following AAPT parameters:</p><pre class=" language-kotlin"><code class="prism language-kotlin"><span class="token keyword">enum</span> <span class="token keyword">class</span> <span class="token function">AAPT2OptimizeFlags</span><span class="token punctuation">(</span><span class="token keyword">val</span> flag<span class="token operator">:</span> String<span class="token punctuation">)</span> <span class="token punctuation">{</span> <span class="token function">COLLAPSE_RESOURCE_NAMES</span><span class="token punctuation">(</span><span class="token string">"--collapse-resource-names"</span><span class="token punctuation">)</span><span class="token punctuation">,</span> <span class="token function">SHORTEN_RESOURCE_PATHS</span><span class="token punctuation">(</span><span class="token string">"--shorten-resource-paths"</span><span class="token punctuation">)</span><span class="token punctuation">,</span> <span class="token function">ENABLE_SPARSE_ENCODING</span><span class="token punctuation">(</span><span class="token string">"--enable-sparse-encoding"</span><span class="token punctuation">)</span> <span class="token punctuation">}</span> </code></pre><p>The AAPT documentation describes these parameters as follows:</p><pre><code>--force-sparse-encoding Enables encoding sparse entries using a binary search tree. This decreases APK size at the cost of resource retrieval performance. Applies sparse encoding to all resources regardless of minSdk. --collapse-resource-names Collapses resource names to a single value in the key string pool. Resources can be exempted using the "no_collapse" directive in a file specified by --resources-config-path. --shorten-resource-paths Shortens the paths of resources inside the APK. Resources can be exempted using the "no_path_shorten" directive in a file specified by --resources-config-path. </code></pre><p>It becomes evident that these parameters are at the heart of the issue that hinders the direct access of files by their names from the code.</p><p>However, as it stands at the time of writing this article, with the Android Gradle Plugin in version 8.3, Gradle does not provide an explicit way to control these parameters via its configuration settings. This means developers are required to employ other approaches to tackle this side effect of resource optimization.</p><p>Don’t worry, there are multiple potential solutions available to circumvent this issue.</p><h2 id="option-one-turning-off-resource-optimizations-using-the-gradle-flag">Option One: Turning Off Resource Optimizations Using the Gradle Flag</h2><p>The first method for resolving this issue involves the use of the <code>android.enableResourceOptimizations=false</code> flag. Adding this flag to the file effectively disables the resource optimization process and thus resolves the issue.</p><p><strong>Pros</strong>: This solution is straightforward and can be implemented with a single line addition to your Gradle configuration. </p><p><strong>Cons</strong>: This flag is set to be deprecated in the upcoming Android Gradle Plugin 9.0. With that in mind, this solution serves as a temporary fix and may not be applicable in the future.</p><h2 id="option-two-anticipating-the-forthcoming-solution-from-the-android-team">Option Two: Anticipating the Forthcoming Solution from the Android team</h2><p>An active issue on <a href="">Google’s issue tracker</a> reflects ongoing development to provide a way to disable specific optimizations by adding buildTypes options based on the AAPT2 Optimize suboperations. This suggests that they plan to include a provision for explicit configuration before the version 9.0 release.</p><p><strong>Pros</strong>: This approach would only necessitate minor changes in the Gradle configuration.</p><p><strong>Cons</strong>: As this development is still in progress, the solution is not available at the moment.</p><h2 id="option-three-moving-files-outside-the-resource-directory">Option Three: Moving Files Outside the Resource Directory</h2><p>Another straightforward solution involves moving the resource files from the <code>/res</code> directory to a different location, such as the <code>/assets</code> directory. This is a viable option because the optimization process only affects files within the <code>/res</code> directory.</p><p><strong>Pros</strong>: This method offers a quick fix to the issue.</p><p><strong>Cons</strong>: It disrupts the more standard practice of maintaining all resources within the <code>/res</code> directory. This inconsistency could potentially lead to confusion in large-scale applications or teams.</p><h2 id="option-four-resource-path-mapping">Option Four: Resource Path Mapping</h2><p>Another approach involves deriving a mapping that converts the original paths back to their changed names and locations. This provides a way to navigate resources as if they’ve not been altered.</p><p>This might be implemented as a Gradle task that calls an AAPT to generate the mapping.</p><p>Running <code>aapt2 dump resources <path-to-apk></code> command produces information about the resource files as follows:</p><pre><code>resource 0x7f010000 anim/abc_fade_in () (file) res/y4.xml type=XML resource 0x7f010001 anim/abc_fade_out () (file) res/Bd.xml type=XML resource 0x7f010002 anim/abc_grow_fade_in_from_botton () (file) res/aM.xml type=XML </code></pre><p>This mapping is expected to remain consistent across multiple iterations of the build, but it should be checked each time the list of resources is altered.</p><p>The Gradle task can be performed manually or incorporated into CI processes. It involves running a script each time resources change. Since the mapping is required at runtime, it must be included in the APK. Therefore, the APK assembly process should be done twice: first to build the APK and then to include the mapping. As a result the original file path can be used in the code to retrieve the obfuscated file path. Collapsed resource names remain the same, so running the assemble task twice will only be required if the resources have been modified.</p><p><strong>Pros</strong>: The files can remain at their current locations at <code>/res</code> directory.</p><p><strong>Cons</strong>: It requires running an APK file with the AAPT executable’s dump parameter, creating the need for additional Gradle tasks. If more resource files are added or renamed in future builds, this solution may not hold up.</p><h2 id="option-five-providing-a-custom-optimizereleaseresources-gradle-task">Option Five: Providing a Custom OptimizeReleaseResources Gradle Task</h2><p>The last solution is a more ambitious one. Implementation would require modifications of the task we need to optimize, as well as all dependent tasks. This strategy allows us to possibly disable undesired sub-operations of the optimization process.</p><p>Moreover, there is a more specific method to exclude certain files from the optimization process. Particular resources can be exempted using the <code>no_collapse</code> directive in a file defined by <code>--resources-config-path</code>. The specified path leads to a <code>resources.cfg</code> file that lists resources along with directives for each one. The expected format for providing directives is: <code>type/resource_name#[directive][,directive]</code>. In our scenario, it would be <code>xml/strings#no_collapse</code>.</p><p><strong>Pros</strong>: This approach addresses the issue in a manner similar to a planned solution on AGP side described as Option two… </p><p><strong>Cons</strong>: This complex solution requires an in-depth comprehension of related Gradle tasks and involves the creation of a custom chain of Gradle tasks. It’s worth noting that altering or extending internal tasks of the Android Gradle plugin is generally not advised due to potential stability, compatibility, and support issues.</p><h2 id="wrapping-up-the-tale">Wrapping Up The Tale</h2><p>While stumbling across such issues can feel like landing in a labyrinth, knowing that there are possible workarounds can equip you with the necessary solutions to navigate your way successfully.</p><p>The puzzle of accessing obfuscated resource files might seem challenging. But remember, every problem in Android development is just another opportunity for mastering the craft.</p><p>Let’s keep pushing the boundaries, one line of code at a time.</p><p><em>Ivan Roshchynskyi</em></p>​<br>#android;#gradle;#agp;#resources;#optimization
Kotlin Multiplatform for native mobile apps development Multiplatform for native mobile apps development<p>​​​​In May & June,​​​ we will deep dive into the world of Kotlin Multiplatform: 3 consecutive Wednesdays in a row, featuring 3 hours of intensive training, utilizing 3 (or more) programming languages & platforms.<br></p><p>Check out each day of training and contact Mariia (<a href=""></a>) if you have any questions or sign up directly on the <a href="">registration form</a>.</p><h2>Training Program</h2><h2>29.5.2024 - Day 1</h2><h3>Building Kotlin Multiplatform applications</h3><ul><li>Brief history of Kotlin project</li><li>Introduction to Kotlin Multiplatform & its current development status</li><li>Comparison of KMP to other cross-platform solutions</li><li>How KMP fits into Kotlin Ecosystem</li><li>Typical structure of KMP Gradle module</li><li>Communication between shared & platform code</li><li>Setup of shared & platform code in version control system repository</li><li>Integration of shared code into an Android & iOS applications</li><li>Architecture of KMP apps</li></ul><h3>What does it get to you?</h3><p>You will understand how the Kotlin Multiplatform (KMP) works and how to use it appropriately.</p><p>You will learn how to run a simple application and understand the logic behind the coding.</p><p>You will get a comprehensive overview of the advantages and disadvantages of KMP compared to other multiplatform solutions.</p><h2>12.6.2024 - Day 2</h2><h3>Kotlin Interoperability in Multiplatform World</h3><ul><li>Levels of language interoperability</li><li>Kotlin/JVM and JVM bytecode</li><li>Kotlin/Native and LLVM bitcode</li><li>Design of Kotlin shared APIs</li><li>Testing of shared code</li></ul><h3>What does it get to you?</h3><p>You will be able to develop shared code that can be easily used on native platforms.</p><p>You will get a feel for using technical details and code design effectively hide the boundaries of where multiplatform begins and ends.</p><h2>19.6​.2024 - Day 3</h2><h3>Efficient development for Kotlin Multiplatform teams</h3><ul><li>Building a KMP team</li><li>Onboarding of Android & iOS platform developers</li><li>Collaboration between Android & iOS teams</li><li>Development process of mobile apps using KMP</li><li>What should you share</li><li>Ecosystem of 3rd party KMP libraries</li><li>Unexpected perks</li></ul><h3>What does it get to you?</h3><p>You will learn what is a key for effective development, how to build a team and work together.</p><p>You will learn how to set up development processes, code review or set up a repo.</p><p>You will get a sense of which parts of the project are suitable to be shared and which are not.</p> <br>#kotlin;#multiplatform;#kmp;#android;#iOS
Context Switching pt.5: Long-Term Approach Switching pt.5: Long-Term Approach<p>​​​This is the last part of our series about context switching. In this post, I'd like to have a more distant look at the sustainability of our work practices and habits and wrap up the whole series.</p><p>So far I've omitted an aspect that has become an integral part of our modern work culture: remote work. We'll look at how working away from the office affects our ability to switch contexts effectively and explore ways of staying productive and mentally healthy in the ever-blurring lines between our professional and personal lives.</p><h2>Benefit from Compounded Improvements </h2><p>Before we get into the intricacies of remote work, let's pause for a moment to consider a philosophical perspective on change and improvement. Often, we encounter opportunities for minor adjustments in our habits or routines. These changes might seem trivial at first glance, leading us to question their worth. Yet, it's in these small shifts where transformative potential lies.</p><p>Take, for instance, the inspiring story of the British cycling team. Their ascent from obscurity to global dominance in the cycling world is a testament to the power of incremental change.</p><p>It's a tale of how small, seemingly insignificant changes can lead to monumental victories. This approach, often referred to as the <q>aggregation of marginal gains,</q> was used by Sir Dave Brailsford, the performance director of British Cycling. Brailsford believed that by making a small improvement in a variety of areas, the cumulative benefits would lead to significant enhancement in overall performance.</p><p>Before Brailsford's tenure, British Cycling had experienced very limited success and was an outsider at competitions. </p><p>The results were extraordinary. British cyclists dominated the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games and won the Tour de France multiple times, starting with Bradley Wiggins in 2012.</p><p>This success hanged on a simple yet profound idea: improve everything you do by just 1%.</p><p>It wasn't just about pedaling faster or longer; it was about refining every detail, from the ergonomics of the bike seat to the way cyclists washed their hands. </p><p>It's about seeking out those tiny victories, knowing that they add up. Just like the British cyclists, who turned marginal gains into gold medals, anyone can turn small, consistent improvements into remarkable success stories.</p><p>Let's take this idea into everyday life. Imagine if every aspect of your work process got just a bit better - code quality improves bit by bit, build times get slightly faster, team communication becomes a tad clearer, and you need to update one less status manually. Investing time to find improvements that help you have one less context switch every hour will probably have a noticeable benefit on your energy levels over time.</p><p>These small improvements might not make headlines on their own, but collectively, they can propel a project to a higher level of efficiency and quality.</p><h2>Remote Work Culture</h2><p>The shift to remote work, accelerated by recent global events, has fundamentally transformed our professional environments. While this transition offers flexibility and eliminates commutes, it also brings unique challenges in managing context switching. In our homes, the boundaries between work and personal life blur, creating a fertile ground for increased task-switching and potential productivity pitfalls.</p><p>Remote work environments differ significantly from traditional office settings. At home, the distractions vary from family interactions to household chores, each demanding attention and contributing to frequent context switches. Unlike the controlled environment of an office, home settings require individuals to self-regulate their focus. It requires not just a physical adjustment, but also a significant mental shift. </p><p>The isolation and lack of direct supervision can lead to feelings of disconnection and uncertainty. This psychological aspect of remote work is crucial to understand, as it directly influences how individuals handle context switching and maintain productivity.</p><p>In remote work, reliance on digital communication tools skyrockets. Emails, instant messages, and video calls become the primary means of interaction, each with its potential for interruption. The constant barrage of notifications from tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or email can fragment attention, making it challenging to engage in deep, focused work. This digital communication overload often leads to a paradox where workers are simultaneously more connected yet more isolated than ever before.</p><p>One of the most significant psychological challenges of remote work is the sense of isolation. Without the casual interactions and social cues of an office environment, workers may feel disconnected from their team and organization. This isolation can lead to a decrease in motivation and engagement, making context switching more challenging due to a lack of immediate collaborative feedback. Remote workers might feel cut off from their colleagues, leading to a sense of loneliness and decreased job satisfaction.</p><h2>Strategies for Reduction of Context Switching While Working from Home</h2><p>Developing strategies that reduce context switching in the short term is essential, but considering the long-term impact on mental health, productivity, and work satisfaction is crucial for sustained performance. Managing context switching effectively over the long haul can prevent burnout and promote a healthier work-life balance.</p><p>To combat the unique context-switching challenges of remote work, consider the following strategies:</p><ul><li>Establish Routines: Creating regular routines can reinforce healthy work habits. For example, starting the day with the most challenging tasks when cognitive resources are at their peak can help maintain high productivity levels throughout the day.</li><li>Promote Work-Life Balance: Encourage clear boundaries between work and personal time. Discourage the habit of checking work communications after hours, which can lead to mental fatigue and impede the ability to recharge fully.</li><li>Foster a Culture of Focus: Cultivate a workplace culture that values deep work and focused attention. Implement policies that reduce unnecessary meetings and encourage concentration, such as quiet hours or no-interruption zones.</li><li>Find Your Peak Hours: Analyze your work patterns and habits over a week to identify peak productivity periods. Track your productivity over a week. Note the times when you feel most focused and energetic. These are likely your peak productivity hours. Try to schedule demanding tasks during these peak times and use the tool to block these periods for focused work.</li><li>Creating a Work-Only Zone: Establish a designated area in your home exclusively for work. This physical separation helps in mentally distinguishing between 'work mode' and 'home mode', reducing the likelihood of context switches due to household distractions.</li><li>Ergonomic Setup: Invest in an ergonomic chair and desk. Comfortable and supportive furniture reduces physical strain, allowing for longer periods of focused work. Make sure the computer screen is at eye level and that you have adequate support for your back and wrists. An external screen is a must if your primary work tool is your laptop.</li><li>Structured Schedule: Maintain regular work hours to create a sense of stability and routine. This structure helps in mentally preparing for work and winding down, clearly demarcating work time from personal time. This helps support the creation of routines and habits, leading to less mental overhead.</li><li>Mindful Communication: Be deliberate about digital communication. Set specific times for checking emails and messages to avoid constant interruptions. Utilize status indicators on communication tools to signal availability and focus times.</li><li>Breaks and Personal Time: Regular breaks are crucial, especially in a remote setting. Step away from your workspace for short periods to clear your mind. This practice helps in maintaining focus and reducing mental fatigue from prolonged periods of concentration.</li><li>Virtual Collaboration Etiquette: Establish clear guidelines for virtual meetings and collaborative work. This includes respecting agreed-upon meeting times, being mindful of different time zones, and ensuring that digital collaborations are purposeful and efficient.</li><li>Minimize Distractions: Identify and minimize potential distractions in your home environment. This might include noise-canceling headphones to block out household noise or using apps that limit social media access during work hours.</li><li>Adequate Lighting: Ensure your workspace is well-lit, preferably with natural light. Good lighting reduces eye strain and improves mood and energy levels.</li><li>Start-of-Day and End-of-Day Routines: Create a routine to mark the start and the end of your workday, such as a short walk or a closing ritual. This helps in mentally transitioning out of work mode.</li></ul><h2>Key Takeaways</h2><p>We made it to the very end of this series. I hope the strategies and tips shared across these posts will help you in taking control of your workday and reclaim the cognitive energy so often depleted by the fragmented nature of modern work environments. </p><p>There was a lot covered, so before we finish, here are a few of the most important tips:</p><ul><li>Identify your context switches to understand what causes you to switch tasks.</li><li>Set priorities using approaches like the Eisenhower Matrix.</li><li>Block time for your most important tasks.</li><li>Set aside specific times to check emails and messages.</li><li>Use 'Do Not Disturb' settings in communication tools or simply switch the notifications off permanently.</li><li>Batch similar tasks together.</li><li>Try day theming to dedicate specific days to specific projects.</li><li>Schedule breaks into your workday.</li><li>Integrate key apps to reduce the need to switch between them.</li><li>Implement no-meeting days or periods to reduce meeting-related context switching.</li></ul>​<br>#agile;#development;#productivity;#team-collaboration
Context switching pt.4: Team Dynamics and Organizational Approaches switching pt.4: Team Dynamics and Organizational Approaches<p>​​The approach to context switching can vary significantly across different workplace cultures. In some environments, deep work and minimal interruptions are highly valued, fostering a culture of sustained focus. In contrast, other workplaces might prioritize responsiveness and agility, with a higher tolerance for multitasking and frequent switches in attention.</p><p>This is part 4 out of 5 of a series about context switching.</p><h2>Regain Transparency</h2><p>The ability to construct and adhere to an effective task management framework is an invaluable skill in today's multitasking work environment.</p><p>Enhancing the visibility of work is a strategic move that can significantly ease the cognitive strain of context switching. When we've got a clear picture of our tasks and their statuses, making transitions between them becomes more manageable, and our focus can remain sharper. Here's how you can shine a light on your work processes:</p><ul><li>Use Visual Management Tools: Kanban boards or other visual task management tools allow you and your team to see the flow of work at a glance. This transparency helps to prioritize and pull work strategically while reducing the overhead of determining what to work on next.</li><li>Create a Single Source of Truth: Centralize documentation, project plans, and progress tracking so that switching contexts doesn't mean digging through disparate sources to find the information you need.</li><li>Hold Regular Check-ins: With regular check-ins or stand-up meetings, team members can briefly update each other on what they're working on, align priorities, and ascertain when uninterrupted work time is necessary.</li></ul><p>Greater visibility of work can lead to improved team dynamics as everyone is aware of the bigger picture and can adapt to reduce bottlenecks or overlaps. This clarity not only enhances productivity but also alleviates the stress associated with uncertainty in task management.</p><p>By making work more visible, you minimize the time and cognitive load spent on catching up or reorienting when switching tasks. This fosters a rhythm of work where transitions are smoother, less energy is wasted, and more cognitive resources can be devoted to the task at hand.</p><p>Task management tools can be your ally in the fight against the chaos of context switching. These applications help you organize tasks by project, priority, and deadline, thereby clarifying what needs your attention and when.</p><p>A unified framework for task management within your team can greatly reduce friction: Use a shared platform where all team members track and update their progress, reducing the need for disruptive check-ins and updates.</p><p>That's why transparency and visibility of all work is a frequently used practice in agile development.</p><h2>Software Development Specifics</h2><p>Specific tactics can be adopted that align well with agile methodologies and the general nature of development work.</p><ul><li>Deep Work during Sprints: Portions of sprints dedicated solely for uninterrupted coding or testing, akin to the concept of 'hackathons.' These can be interwoven with more “collaborative” portions.</li><li>Clear Sprint Goals: Ensuring that sprint goals are well-defined and understood by all team members help minimize the need for context switching related to clarifications or priorities.</li><li>Feature Branching: By using a branching strategy tailored to your team's needs, you can minimize the disruption caused by frequent merges.</li><li>Regular Commits: Encouraging smaller, more frequent commits can make merges less daunting and reduce the cognitive overhead associated with integrating large amounts of code.</li><li>Pair Programming: Having two developers work together on the same task can help keep them focused on the task at hand, reducing the likelihood of context switching.</li><li>Integrating Workflows: Leverage integrations between different tools to create a more seamless workflow. For example, linking your project management tool with version control systems like GitHub or GitLab can automate the tracking of progress and reduce the need to manually update the status of development tasks.</li><li>Automation of Repetitive Tasks: Where possible, automate repetitive or administrative tasks. If you find yourself repeatedly doing the same task when switching contexts, consider if a tool could handle it for you to save time and reduce cognitive load. Tools that automate processes like code deployment, testing, or even email sorting can free up mental space, allowing professionals to focus on more complex and meaningful work without constant interruptions.</li><li>Unified Communication Platforms: Use tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams that can integrate directly with your project management software. This allows for real-time updates and conversations around work items to be centralized and easily accessible, preventing the need for context switching between communication and task-tracking platforms.</li><li>Create communication tool policies: It might be useful to designate individual communication tools for information and requests with a certain urgency. For instance, only use private messages in platforms like Slack for information that requires a timely reaction. Use common Slack channels for less urgent topics. And for items that can wait a day or two, use email. This principle can leave you at peace knowing there is no need to check your email every half an hour because your colleagues don't expect the answer that fast. Otherwise, they would use a different communication channel..</li><li>Self-reflection: Encourage team members to reflect on their most productive periods and identify which types of task switches are most jarring or disrupt their flow.</li><li>Minimize Work in Progress (WIP): Limit the number of tasks or features developers are working on simultaneously. Tools like WIP limits in Kanban can be particularly effective in controlling the pace and amount of context switching.</li><li>Standardize Coding Practices: Simplify and standardize development processes to reduce cognitive overhead. This might include implementing consistent coding standards.</li></ul><h2>Setting Clear Boundaries and Expectations</h2><p>It's crucial not to overlook the human aspect – setting boundaries and communicating expectations can significantly influence task management:</p><ul><li>Clearly communicate your availability and work hours to teammates, and respect theirs, to reduce interruptions.</li><li>Designate 'quiet hours' or 'focus time' where the team agrees to limit communications to only urgent matters, allowing deep work to take priority.</li></ul><p>By establishing and maintaining a structured approach to managing tasks, you can create a work environment conducive to focus and productivity, significantly reducing the occurrence and impact of context switching.</p><h2>Implementing <q>Focus Hours</q></h2><p>Organizations can cultivate a culture of deep work by implementing 'focus hours'—designated times during the day when interruptions are minimized, and team members are encouraged to engage in uninterrupted work. This practice not only enhances individual productivity but also fosters a collective respect for focused work time.</p><p>Reducing the number of unnecessary meetings can have a profound impact on reducing context switching. Encouraging concise, well-planned meetings and discouraging impromptu or non-essential gatherings can free up significant amounts of time, allowing employees to engage in more sustained, focused work periods.</p><ul><li>Reserve Mornings for Code: Mornings designated as a no-meeting period, dedicated solely to coding and critical development work. This move capitalizes on the fresh energy levels and fewer distractions early in the day.</li><li>Afternoons for Collaboration: Afternoons set aside for meetings, code reviews, and collaborative work, reflecting a more natural dip in concentration levels.</li></ul><p>Clearly defined times for checking messages to prevent constant notifications from interrupting developers' flow.</p><h2>Conclusion</h2><p>The key lies in balancing structured processes with individual flexibility. Integrating visual management tools, embracing agile methodologies, and setting clear boundaries, help to enhance transparency and focus. Implementing 'focus hours' and reducing unnecessary meetings further consolidates this approach, allowing for deeper work and minimizing cognitive overload.</p><p>In the next (and last) part we'll gaze into the future to try to find an answer on how to build habits that save context-switching costs in today's remote working environment.</p> ​<br>#agile;#development;#productivity;#team-collaboration
Context Switching pt.3: Personal Techniques to Maintain Mental Clarity Switching pt.3: Personal Techniques to Maintain Mental Clarity<p>​​​In my previous posts, we delved into the nature of context switching and its impact on productivity, (not just) within software development. Armed with that knowledge, it's now time to pivot from diagnosis to finding solutions. Today's post is dedicated to the strategies and pragmatic measures we can employ to master the disruptive forces of context switching. We'll explore various techniques that have proved valuable in combating this productivity drain.</p><h2>Strategies for Maintaining Mental Clarity and Productivity</h2><p>Now, let's explore techniques to combat the cost of context switching. These methods seek to maintain mental clarity and boost productivity, acting as a defensive bulwark against the onslaught of interruptions.</p><p>Prioritized Task Management: One of the most effective strategies to stave off the ill effects of context switching is to prioritize tasks. By categorizing work into urgent, important, and less critical, you can focus on what truly matters without the constant shift in priorities. Utilize tools like the Eisenhower Matrix to help in this process.</p><p>Time Blocking: Carve out specific time blocks dedicated to singular tasks or types of work. This method not only promotes deep work but also sets clear boundaries around when you are available for collaboration or meetings.</p><p>Controlling Notifications: In the age where every app vies for your attention with incessant notifications, take proactive measures to mute or schedule them. For example, use the 'Do Not Disturb' mode during your deep work sessions to prevent unnecessary digital interruptions. </p><p>Batching Similar Tasks: Grouping similar tasks together can reduce the cognitive load of switching gears. For instance, handle all your code reviews at a designated time or set aside a block for administrative tasks. Separating complex tasks that require deep focus from more routine, less demanding tasks. This allows your brain to engage with each type of activity without the burden of constant gear-shifting.</p><p>Streamlining Communications: Communication is vital, but it can be a significant source of context switching. Define clear windows during the day when you check and respond to emails and messages. This confines communication to specific times, minimizing the interruption to your primary work.</p><p>Identifying Triggers: Recognizing what prompts you to switch contexts can help preempt unnecessary breaks.</p><p>Structured Procrastination: If certain tasks are a frequent source of self-interruption, allocate specific times for them, minimizing their intrusion into more critical work periods.</p><p>All these strategies underscore one thematic resolution: to establish a structured approach to your workday that respects the need for focused, uninterrupted time. Not only does this shield you from the adverse effects of context switching, but it also paves the way for a more ordered and productive professional life.</p><h2>Eisenhower Matrix</h2><p>The Eisenhower Matrix, a time management tool named after President Dwight D. Eisenhower, is particularly effective for prioritizing tasks based on their urgency and importance. This matrix divides tasks into four categories: </p><ul><li>urgent and important</li><li>important but not urgent</li><li>urgent but not important</li><li>neither urgent nor important</li></ul><p>In software development, an example of an <q>urgent and important</q> task could be fixing a critical bug that's causing a system outage, as it directly impacts the functionality and user experience. An <q>important but not urgent</q> task might involve refactoring code to improve maintainability, which, while not pressing, significantly enhances long-term project health. </p><p> <q>Urgent but not important</q> tasks could include responding to non-critical emails that require timely replies but don't contribute directly to development goals. Lastly, tasks that are <q>neither urgent nor important</q> might include attending optional meetings that don';t directly relate to current project objectives. Categorizing tasks can help more effectively allocate time and resources, ensuring that critical issues are addressed promptly while also making room for strategic, long-term improvements. </p><h2>Personal Experimentation - Finding What Works for You</h2><p>Despite the array of techniques to curb context switching, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. For this reason, an essential element in mastering one's workflow is personal experimentation. Trying different strategies and observing their impact on your productivity and well-being is key to customizing an approach that aligns with your cognitive style and work responsibilities.</p><h3>Experiment with Focus Techniques:</h3><ul><li>Regular Breaks: Integrate short, regular breaks into your schedule to clear your mind and avoid cognitive overload. The Pomodoro Technique is one method that incorporates this idea effectively. Work for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break. This can increase focus by creating urgency and allowing regular breaks to recharge. </li><li>Day Theming: Assigning different themes to your work days can help you maintain a clearer focus. For instance, you might dedicate Mondays to development work, Tuesdays to meetings and for administrative duties, and so on.</li><li>Adjust Communication Habits: Is it really necessary to have your email ding every time something arrives in your inbox?</li><li>Try checking emails only at certain times. Observe how this affects your ability to concentrate on tasks without the anticipation of upcoming communications.</li><li>Manage Your Environment: Physical and virtual workspace organization can have a significant impact on your focus. See how decluttering your desk or desktop affects your ability to switch between tasks.</li><li>Physical Exercise:</li><li>Beyond organizational strategies, personal health, particularly regular physical exercise, plays a crucial role in combating the effects of context switching. Activities like jogging, yoga, or even brisk walking can enhance cognitive function and focus, providing a natural buffer against the mental fatigue caused by frequent task-switching.</li><li>Mindfulness and Meditation: Regular mindfulness practice helps train your brain to focus on the present moment, reducing the mental clutter that often accompanies task switching. This not only improves your ability to concentrate on a single task but also helps in quickly regaining focus after an interruption. Science has shown that 2 things are especially effective for mental resting: a swift walk and looking at details in nature (like shapes of leaves, colors of birds or movement of clouds). You can try doing this during your breaks while resisting the urge to check your Facebook. It helps to mentally recover for upcoming work.</li></ul><p>Studies suggest that switching mindsets may be less disruptive than switching tasks, an interesting notion worthy of exploration. While you may not be able to reduce the number of tasks, changing your approach to how they're tackled – emphasizing mindset rather than the tasks themselves – could result in a smoother transition between them.</p><p>Personal experimentation with these strategies can also lead to better self-awareness concerning how context-switching affects you individually. What works for one person may not work for another, and understanding your unique responses to task-switching can inform a more personalized and effective workflow.</p><h3>A Practical Tip for Swift Task Resumption</h3><p>What if all mitigation failed and you got interrupted? I got a tip for you.</p><p>A counterintuitive yet effective practice for speeding up the resumption of work after an interruption is to leave a task exactly as it is, even if it means stopping mid-sentence or leaving a logical piece incomplete. Resist the urge to “finish” the sentence or thought before you leave.</p><p>This approach, as extreme as it may sound, creates a cognitive bookmark that makes it significantly easier to pick up right where you left off, thereby reducing the time and mental effort needed to reorient yourself back into the task. You simply reread the preceding text and continue with a single following word. Because it is a much smaller piece of puzzle to fill in as opposed to starting a completely new paragraph, it makes it easier to get moving.</p><h2>Conclusion</h2><p>As we wrap up this first part of our exploration into personal strategies for managing context switching, remember that the key lies in structured, prioritized task management and setting clear boundaries for deep work. Stay tuned for our next post, where we'​ll dive into team techniques and strategies to handle context switching.</p> ​<br>#agile;#development;#productivity;#team-collaboration
Context Switching pt.2: Psychological factors Switching pt.2: Psychological factors​​​​​​​​Welcome back to our series on context switching. In the first part, we explored the fundamental aspects of context switching, its impact on productivity, and the cognitive challenges it presents, especially in the area of software development. Now, in this second post, we turn our attention to the psychological dimensions of context switching. We'll delve into how it affects mental health and work quality, the signs of an overwhelmed context-switching capacity, and the personal and team dynamics that influence its impact. <h2>The Neuroscience of Task Switching</h2><p>To truly grasp context switching, we must delve into the realm of cognitive science and understand the neural mechanisms at play. A study by Santiago Galella and Salva Ardid in 2023 casts light on the neural gymnastics involved in task switching. They describe it as a cognitive control challenge—our brains effectively 'rewire' themselves in realtime to manage the demands of different tasks.</p><p>Task switching involves a network of brain regions that include the prefrontal cortex—a command center for executive functions—and the posterior parietal cortex, which integrates sensory information. When we switch tasks, these areas must work together to suppress the rules and goals of the previous task and activate those relevant to the new task. This activity represents a significant overhead and can be visualized through neuroimaging techniques.</p><p>Moreover, Galella and Ardid highlight the impact of context inputs, suggesting that the surrounding environment can aid or hinder the brain's ability to switch tasks. For instance, a cluttered workspace with multiple visual stimuli can exacerbate the cognitive control required to switch tasks effectively compared to a minimalist and orderly environment.</p><p>In essence, understanding these neural representations and the cognitive control required for task switching can help us comprehend why context switching is burdensome and how we might mitigate that by manipulating our work setup and conditions.</p><p>Psychology and neuroscience research by Harvard Business Review shows that jumping between tasks is cognitively taxing and can significantly impact productivity and mental well-being. This strain on cognitive resources, the research speculates, is rooted in our brain's finite capacity to process and hold information 'in mind' at any given time, leading to strain when switching between multiple tasks or topics.</p><p>Every time we switch tasks, we incur a <q>cost</q> that can deplete our cognitive reserves. When we context switch, we're drawing from our limited pool of cognitive resources. Each transition requires reorienting our mental framework to accommodate a new set of variables and challenges, akin to reprogramming a computer for a different task. Cognitive psychologists have found that the act of context switching can deplete our focus, attention, and working memory capacity—vital components for effective software development.Meanwhile, crucial moments of insight could be slipping through the cracks as they attempt to regain their flow. Applied to a typical workday with numerous interruptions, we’re talking about a substantial cumulative effect on productivity.</p><h2>Intensified Cognitive Load Under Time Pressure</h2><p>Imagine you're working on a task and you know there's a meeting in 15 minutes. This awareness alone can heighten the cognitive load. You're not just dealing with the mental shift of context switching; you're also racing against the clock. Research indicates that such time constraints can force us into a mental shortcut mode, where we might not process information as deeply as we would under less pressure.</p><p>With an eye on the clock, the quality of your work during these switches can suffer. You might find yourself skimming through tasks rather than engaging deeply, as you would if time weren't a factor. This hurried approach can lead to mistakes or incomplete work, especially in fields requiring high attention to detail, like software development.</p><p>Knowing that both context switching and time pressure can be mentally taxing, planning your day with these factors in mind becomes essential. This might mean scheduling deep-focus work during quieter hours or setting realistic expectations for what can be achieved within given time frames.</p><p>While occasional deadlines and periods of time pressure might increase one's performance, it is important to use this tool with caution. Time pressure is usually understood as a project deadline or a release date, but I believe it's important to view it in its broader context. Even seemingly trivial time restrictions like an approaching meeting, a fixed departure of a train home, or colleagues waiting for me to join them for lunch are time pressures on their own.</p><p>The presence of an impending deadline or a tight timeframe can indeed amplify the cognitive cost of context switching. It's not just the switch itself that matters, but also the environment and time constraints within which it occurs.</p><h2>Addressing the Elephant in the Room: Productivity and Software Quality</h2><p>Let’s not forget the implications for software quality. As the cognitive load increases due to frequent interruptions and context switches, so does the propensity for errors. The mental 'loading time' to retrieve all the relevant details surrounding their task can lead to oversights. As studies highlighted, this decreased efficiency is a straight road to a higher likelihood of bugs and poorly implemented features, affecting not just productivity but the integrity of the end product.</p><p>Frequent task switching in software development doesn't just slow down the process; it introduces a higher likelihood for errors. The connection between interrupted work and reduced quality underscores the importance of fostering environments where deep, uninterrupted work is possible. The tenacity needed to track down a tricky bug or refactor a critical module is substantially undermined every time the developer's attention is diverted. The more our cognitive load is taxed, the more prone we become to mistakes, and in the context of software development, these errors are not just mere slip-ups; they can lead to critical system failures or security vulnerabilities.</p><p>The drawbacks of context switching extend beyond just immediate productivity dips—they also have a tangible influence on the quality of the work produced and the mental health of those producing it. This dual impact demands a nuanced approach that accommodates both organizational goals and personal well-being.</p><p>A codebase is a reflection of the concentration and care placed into it. When developers are pulled away mid-thought, mistaken logic or coding errors are more likely to creep in. Frequent context switching has been shown to reduce efficiency, and the reduced attention to detail can lead to subtle but critical bugs. A study by Shakeri Hossein Abad et al. (2018) emphasizes that context switching significantly contributes to an increased likelihood of defects and technical debt.Constant context switching not only affects immediate productivity but also has implications for long-term memory and learning. Cognitive psychology suggests that when our brain is frequently interrupted, it hampers the process of consolidating information into long-term memory, thereby affecting our ability to learn and retain new knowledge effectively.There's a compelling incentive, then, to build frameworks that shield our developers from the barrage and give them the space to cultivate deep work. This might manifest as implementing policies that recognize the value of uninterrupted time, formalizing code review processes to catch errors that slipped through context-switching cracks, or leveraging pair programming to maintain a shared context and reduce cognitive load.</p><h2>Signals of an Overwhelmed Context-Switching Capacity</h2><p>The toll exacted by context switching isn't exclusively measured in moments of lost productivity—it's also captured in the subtle deterioration of our mental stamina.</p><p>How to know you're having too many context switches? Atlassian Blog points to signs symptomatic of a troublesome context-switching load: </p><ul><li>Missing details: when details start slipping through the cracks</li><li>Difficulty in starting tasks: procrastination or a heavy sense of dread when it comes to initiating tasks</li><li>Habitual deferring of simple tasks</li></ul><p>These signals may well be red flags indicating that our cognitive capacities are overstretched. Each of these signals points to a strain that goes beyond mere task-related stress; it infiltrates deeper levels of cognitive operation, affecting how we manage information, make decisions, and proceed with our work.</p><p>Frequent context switching can have a long-term impact not just on productivity, but in severe cases mental health, and overall work satisfaction can suffer too.</p><h2>Mental Health: The Silent Sufferer in the Shadows</h2><p>Beyond tangible productivity metrics, context switching exerts a less visible but equally concerning toll on mental health. The Atlassian Blog and Spike's analysis of workplace productivity discuss the fatigue and stress that arise from frequent task switching. The constant demand to recalibrate one's frame of mind can lead to burnout and reduced job satisfaction over time.</p><p>43% of workers report feeling fatigued by the act of juggling multiple tasks, highlighting the mental cost associated with context switching.</p><p>Personal vulnerability factors, such as stress levels and individual resilience against interruptions, significantly influence how people handle context switches. Moreover, recognizing and adapting to the unique interaction patterns within a team—some members might prefer segmented work blocks while others thrive on dynamic task juggling—can help managers allocate work more optimally, minimizing involuntary context switching. </p><h2>Key Takeaways</h2><ul><li>Context switching incurs a cognitive tax that significantly hinders productivity and quality of work, demanding meticulous management.</li><li>Self-interruptions are often more disruptive than external ones, thus necessitating strong self-discipline and structured work habits.</li><li>Agile environments, while collaborative and dynamic, can amplify cognitive challenges during task transition, making tailored mitigation strategies crucial.</li><li>Technological advancements such as automation in tooling offer promising avenues for easing the cognitive burden.</li><li>The dual impact of context switching on software quality and mental health underscores the need for a balanced approach that promotes both professional performance and personal well-being.</li><li>Understanding individual and contextual factors that affect the disruptiveness of task switching is key to crafting personalized strategies for each team member.</li></ul><p>By watching for the strain signals, we can take timely measures to counterbalance the cognitive load, such as implementing more rigid task prioritization, streamlining workflow processes, or simply taking more frequent breaks to refresh the mind. Recognizing the signs is the first step towards effecting a change in our work habits and environment to preserve our mental agility.</p><h2>Conclusion<span style="color:#222222;font-family:source-sans-pro, open-sans, sans-serif;font-size:16px;">​</span><span style="color:#222222;font-family:source-sans-pro, open-sans, sans-serif;font-size:16px;">​</span></h2><p>We've explored how the cognitive load intensifies under time pressure, the impact on software quality, and the subtle yet significant toll it takes on mental health.</p><p>In our next post, we will focus on practical mitigation strategies. We'll explore tips to manage the cognitive tax of context switching more effectively as individuals.</p>#agile;#development;#productivity;#team-collaboration
Context Switching pt.1: What's the Cost?'s-the-Cost.aspxContext Switching pt.1: What's the Cost?<p>​​​​In today's fast-paced world, where multitasking is often glorified, context switching is an unavoidable aspect of both our professional and personal lives. Companies often even state a requirement for the ability to multitask in their job advertisements.</p><p>The tendency to rapidly shift from one task to another has become a defining characteristic of contemporary work environments, more so in the complex world of software development. </p><p>As much as we'd like to believe that juggling multiple tasks simultaneously is a hallmark of efficiency, evidence suggests otherwise.</p><p>This is the first part of a series on the topic of context switching. Today, we're addressing what context switching actually is, why it is a problem, and what its true cost is. The goal of this first blog post is to examine the depths of context switching, look at its broader implications on productivity and quality of work, and start laying the groundwork for practical mitigation strategies.</p><p>In the following parts, we're going to have a look at the psychological and scientific aspects and then cover tips and practices that may change the way you approach your day-to-day activities.</p><h2>What is Context Switching?</h2><p>At its core, context switching refers to the process of moving from one task to another and adjusting our mental context accordingly. You've likely heard the term <q>context switching</q> tossed around in workplace conversations or across productivity forums, but do we really grasp what it entails? </p><p>In software development, it typically means moving from coding to a meeting, then jumping to email, and back to debugging. Then a barrage of Slack messages, an unexpected call, or even a 'quick' progress call - all within a short time.</p><p>Yet this phenomenon isn't confined to developers alone; it’s prevalent across countless professions and can seep into our home lives too. Context switching is essentially the mental gymnastics we perform when shifting our focus from one task to another.</p><p>For professionals, particularly those in intellectually demanding fields like software development, context switching is like trying to juggle while running a marathon—you're bound to drop the ball, or worse, burn out before reaching the finish line.</p><h2>Understanding Context Switching and Its Impact on Productivity</h2><p>In the pre-digital era, professionals often dealt with tasks sequentially, allowing for a deeper focus on each task. In the industrial era, work was often repetitive and singular in focus, contrasting sharply with today's digital age where professionals juggle diverse tasks. Today, however, the digital age has exponentially increased the frequency of context switching, bombarding us with a constant stream of emails, messages, and notifications. This evolution from a mono-tasking to a multi-tasking work environment has significantly increased the frequency of context switching. This shift has not only changed the way we work but also significantly increased the cognitive load, making it more challenging to maintain productivity and focus.</p><p>Context switching is the nemesis of deep work. Deep work requires uninterrupted periods of concentration, fostering an environment where high-quality, productive output thrives.</p><p>Studies underscore a grim reality: It's not just a mere minute or two to refocus; the cognitive gears need significant realignment. The toll it takes on productivity is not trivial. The cognitive load imposed by task switching can see developers losing precious minutes of concentration, leading to a dip in productivity.</p><p>Let's have a look at some statistics from various researches on context switching done by Atlassian and</p><ul><li>It can take a staggering 9.5 minutes to regain workflow post-switch. Some other studies even talk about up to 23 minutes. Imagine the cumulative effect of multiple switches in a day.</li><li>97.5% of people cannot multitask effectively.</li><li>The average person is interrupted 31.6 times per day.</li><li>On average, the loss in cognitive capacity (thus productivity) due to context switching can be upwards of 20%. That is a 'fifth-day' practical loss in a typical work week.</li><li>At least 45% of people self-characterized as less productive while context-switching.</li></ul><h2>Multitasking vs. Multi-Failing</h2><p>It's a common misconception that multitasking boosts efficiency. However, research consistently reveals that only about 2.5% of people can effectively multitask. Essentially, when we believe we are multitasking, we're often just task-switching with lower efficiency and quality as the unwanted sidekicks.</p><p>The takeaway here is stark: context switching, though an unavoidable aspect of modern professional life, is a substantial drain on productivity, creativity, and performance.</p><p>So what happens when we context switch, particularly in mentally taxing jobs? Once the interrupted person returns to their initial task, it's not just a matter of picking up where they left off; they must also reload the context of the problem space, which imposes a significant cognitive load. The time needed to resume a previous task isn't just silent time; it's active cognitive effort being expended without contributing to the task's progress. </p><p>It's a phenomenon where the brain changes its 'mental control settings' when moving to a new task.</p><h2>What are the Types of Context Switching?</h2><p>Factors influencing the disruptiveness of task switching include the nature of the interruption (self versus external), the complexity of the task at hand, and even the time of day. What factors influence the impact of context switches? We can distinguish between a few basic ones:</p><ul><li>Switch of topic: we jump to a completely different topic of problem</li><li>Switch of depth: we remain in the same problem, but jump to a different level of it</li><li>Externally caused switch: someone else actively interrupts us</li><li>Internally caused switch: we initiate a switch by our own voluntary decision</li><li>Complexity of task: how mentally challenging a given task interrupted by a switch is</li></ul><p>For example, complex tasks, such as writing new code or solving software architecture problems, usually suffer more from interruptions than more routine ones, such as checking email or attending regular meetings.</p><p>Switching both the topic and depth of tasks is found to be particularly jarring and draining for productivity, indicating the complexity of cognitive processes involved. For instance switching from performing routine, procedural tasks to tackling strategic, high-level thinking imposes an even greater load on our cognitive capacity.</p><h2>The Unseen Thief: Self-Interruptions and Their Stealthy Toll</h2><p>Not all interruptions are created equal. While you might assume external factors are the primary culprits in hijacking your focus, the reality appears to be quite the opposite. Research on context switching has revealed some intriguing findings, particularly about self-interruptions.</p><p>The urge to switch to a 'quick' secondary task is alluring, yet it leaves us suspended in a state of reduced productivity for longer than we might expect. The <q>Let me just quickly check the status of that other task</q> disruption.</p><p>It’s somewhat counterintuitive, but those moments when we voluntarily shift tasks - those moments when we decide to switch tasks on our own, think of checking a quick email mid-task - can be more disruptive than if someone else had interrupted us. The autonomy we value so much appears to have its drawbacks, as these self-directed switches tend to lead our productivity astray.</p><p>I think this is fascinating. Why? Because it suggests that the mere act of deciding to shift focus is in itself a distracting force.</p><p>Through self-interruptions, we disrupt our workflow often underestimating its impact. It appears that the structure of our productivity is linked to our discipline in managing (and resisting) these self-imposed diversions. And for those of us in leadership or team management roles, understanding and guiding teams through the maze of self-interruption can be the key to unlocking higher efficiency and better mental acuity.</p><p>Now, while we might not have the power to eliminate all interruptions (some are necessary and valuable), we can create a structure that minimizes unnecessary self-imposed diversions. This includes creating strict <q>focus zones</q> in our work schedules or employing stringent, but realistic, communication protocols.</p><p>But it's worth noting that voluntary task switching may sometimes be synonymous with poor impulse control.</p><p>When we talk about the challenges of context switching, it's important to consider how looming deadlines or upcoming commitments, like meetings, add to the cognitive strain. This aspect is often overlooked, yet it plays a crucial role in how effectively we manage task transitions.</p><h2>Cognitive Challenges Faced by Agile Software Development Teams</h2><p>Agile methodologies, with their emphasis on adaptability and collaborative work, have revolutionized the software development landscape. However, even the most well-oiled agile teams are vulnerable to the cognitive overload that context switching can induce.</p><p>In agile frameworks, the quick feedback loops and iterative processes demand frequent task transitions. Novice developers especially may find this environment sprouting with cognitive landmines.</p><p>The cognitive overhead of managing multiple agile practices can ripple through a team, affecting communication, work quality, and mental exhaustion.</p><p>Statistical Insight: A survey found that 45% of agile practitioners named "managing distributed teams" as a significant challenge in agile implementations, suggesting the cognitive complexity of coordinating work across contexts and locations.</p><h2>Conclusion</h2><p>In the first part of the series, we've discovered that it's clear that this phenomenon is more than just a minor inconvenience. It's a significant challenge that impacts productivity, software quality, and mental health. We've explored the cognitive tax of context switching.</p><p>In the next part of this series, we will shift our focus to the psychological aspects of context switching. We'll examine how it affects our mental well-being and the subtle signs that indicate an overwhelmed context-switching capacity.</p>​<br>#agile;#development;#productivity;#team-collaboration
The role of continuous feedback in software development role of continuous feedback in software development<p>Just like a boomerang coming back to you, feedback in software development and product management helps you improve. In this article, we're going to explore feedback mechanisms and purpose in its broader sense. Not just person-to-person feedback, but also product, market, and development practices. We'll back up our points with evidence from psychological research, so buckle up for a fact-based feedback adventure!</p><h2></h2><p>Several kinds of research have been performed to analyze the relationship between feedback and improvement. In this post, I've picked two well fitting to the world of software development.</p><p>By understanding Kahneman's and Melton's researches, we can see why immediate feedback is so crucial to our software development and product management success.</p><h2>1. The Kahneman study on immediate vs. delayed feedback</h2><p>In his study, psychologist Daniel Kahneman compares the experiences of anesthesiologists and radiologists to illustrate the difference between immediate and delayed feedback. He analyzed their job's inherent feedback nature. He then assessed the effect of such an environment on an individual's development.</p><p>A radiologist is a type of doctor who specializes in medical imaging. Radiologists analyze images, such as X-rays, to help diagnose, monitor, and treat various conditions or injuries. An anesthesiologist is a doctor who gives a patient medication so they do not feel pain when undergoing surgery.</p><p>There is one key difference when it comes to the feedback loop.</p><p>Anesthesiologists work alongside the patient and get feedback straight away, such as whether the patient is unconscious with stable vital signs. On the other hand, radiologists don't get rapid feedback on their diagnoses, if they get it at all. They often have to wait for weeks or even months to find out whether their diagnosis was correct.</p><p>The immediate feedback helps anesthesiologists learn the regularities of their environment and adjust their actions accordingly. As a result, anesthesiologists tend to have a higher success rate in administering anesthesia and managing patients throughout the procedure.</p><p>The delay in feedback for radiologists makes it much harder to improve their skills and recognize patterns. Consequently, radiologists typically correctly diagnose breast cancer from X-rays just 70% of the time.</p><h2>2. The Melton study on predicting freshman success</h2><p>Richard Melton's study aimed to predict the grades of freshmen at the end of their first year of college. A set of 14 counselors interviewed each student for about an hour and had access to high school grades, several aptitude tests, and a four-page personal statement. Based on this information, the counselors made predictions about the students' first-year college performance.</p><p>In comparison, Melton created an algorithm that used only high school grades and one aptitude test as input. Despite the limited information, the formula was more accurate than 11 of the 14 counselors, outperforming them by a significant margin. Melton's study was reported alongside over a dozen similar results across various domains, such as predicting parole violations and success in pilot training.</p><p>The key finding of this study is that, in many cases, simple algorithms using limited data can outperform human judgment. This insight can be applied to various decision-making processes where data is available, emphasizing the importance of relying on (simplified) data and patterns rather than solely on subjective assessments of complex factors.</p><h2>Benefits of continuous feedback in software development</h2><p>Imagine your software development team as a well-oiled machine. With continuous feedback, the gears are in sync, communication is smooth, and everyone's on the same page. Like Kahneman's anesthesiologists, the immediate feedback loop helps your team adapt quickly to change, keeping them nimble and responsive. Plus, it boosts team morale and motivation, as everyone knows they work together towards a common goal. It's like a software development symphony!</p><p>Agile development methods employ short iterations. Those are tools that transform findings from feedback loops into high business value and relevance when performed correctly.</p><p>Many teams adopting Agile development approach miss this aspect. It is not sufficient to develop in small chunks and short cycles on its own. If a relevant feedback loop mechanism isn't employed, the whole point of agile development can be missed because the ecosystem does not improve itself.</p><h2>Techniques for effective continuous feedback in software development</h2><p>According to Kahneman's concept of deliberate practice, a guitarist can't become an expert by playing the same songs for 25 years. If we apply this logic to our software development team, it needs to be pushed beyond their comfort zone to grow. </p><p>Immediate feedback creates a productive learning environment, helping your team members become experts in their craft. Not only can it help your team collaborate and improve individual skills, but it can also give valuable insights into your product's market relevancy, usability, and development practices.</p><p>In software development and product management, this translates to the effective employment of metrics, analytics, and user feedback. Developers and managers can make more informed decisions about the product's direction, team performance, and areas for improvement.</p><p>Furthermore, implementing continuous integration, automated testing, and regular code reviews can provide developers with a very short feedback cycle, enabling them to learn quickly and avoid making the same mistakes, ultimately leading to a higher-quality product and a more efficient development process.</p><p>So let's now be more particular about how to incorporate findings from the mentioned studies in practice. I'll break down typical best practices corresponding to the feedback studies I mentioned earlier.</p><h2>Applying the Kahneman and Meloton studies to software development</h2><p>There are several typical ways to foster immediate feedback mechanisms in software development.</p><h3>Continuous integration</h3><p>Continuous integration (CI) can be implemented to provide immediate feedback on code changes. As developers commit code to the shared repository, CI tools automatically build and test the application, providing rapid feedback on whether the changes pass or fail the tests. This immediate feedback allows developers to quickly fix any issues, reducing the risk of accumulating technical debt and ensuring the product remains stable.</p><p>Code reviews by peers are often an integral part of the continuous integration process.</p><h3>Testing in minimum increments</h3><p>By testing in minimum increments the team takes every chance it gets to test a newly written code - even multiple times per day. The smaller the change is, the shorter the feedback loop is. That is why it is so important to have automated processes set up to make this a pain-free process.</p><h3>Frequent reviews with stakeholders</h3><p>Another way to incorporate immediate feedback in Agile development is by conducting regular sprint reviews and surveys with stakeholders and end-users. These reviews provide an opportunity for the team to demonstrate the functionality they have completed and gather feedback from stakeholders. </p><p>Qualitative or quantitative surveys provide in-depth feedback and sanity checks. The team can then use this feedback to prioritize work for the next sprint, ensuring that the most important features and improvements are addressed promptly.</p><h3>Retrospectives</h3><p>An analogy of reviews, which are outward-oriented, are retrospectives. While it is more inward-focused, it is a great tool to provide access and obtain immediate feedback from within the team. There is no need to keep rigorous and employ complex or sophisticated mechanisms, keeping it as a simple and to-the-point discussion is often sufficient.</p><h2>Leveraging the Melton study in software development</h2><p>The Melton study demonstrates that simple algorithms using limited data can outperform human judgment. In software development, this insight highlights the importance of relying on data and patterns to inform decision-making, rather than solely on subjective assessments.</p><h3>Using metrics to inform backlog prioritization</h3><p>One way to apply data-driven decision-making in Agile development is by using metrics to inform backlog prioritization. For example, a product manager could analyze user engagement data, customer feedback, and bug reports to determine which features or improvements should be prioritized in the backlog. By using data to inform these decisions, the development team can focus on the most impactful work, ultimately leading to a better product that meets the needs of its users.</p><p>The takeaway here is that the statistics don't necessarily need to be extremely complex and sophisticated. Quite the contrary - a simple but highly relevant metric helps tremendously. Such simple metrics can be user story completion rates, velocity measurement, net promoter score, time to restore a service etc. Metrics that are really trivial in principle.</p><p>Managers can identify trends and patterns that indicate strengths and weaknesses by collecting data on the team's velocity, code quality, and other relevant metrics. People sometimes evaluate snapshots of situations without seeing the trends.</p><p>This data-driven approach can lead to more effective and efficient development teams.</p><h2>Tips for making the continuous feedback work</h2><p>Now that we've explored the what, why, and how of continuous feedback, let's talk about making it work in real life. First, create a feedback-friendly culture where team members feel safe to share their thoughts and ideas. Encourage open communication and make feedback sessions a regular part of your team's routine. This is paramount, without a culture valuing honesty, feedback receptiveness is greatly hindered.</p><p>A side note for managers: this culture of human-to-human feedback goes both ways—be receptive to the feedback you receive and use it to sharpen your own skills and processes. </p><p>But wait, there's more! We must broaden our understanding of feedback by extending it beyond the individual level. Design the entire development system to generate and be responsive to feedback, encompassing aspects such as development practices, product quality, financial efficiency, and any other aspect crucial to the product being developed.</p><p>A strong emphasis on feedback loops is a crucial factor that distinguishes traditional waterfall development methods from Agile development. Simply adopting short iterations and frequent planning cycles isn't enough to fully embrace the Agile philosophy if feedback reception mechanisms don't exist. Establishing a system that generates and processes feedback is absolutely essential. Being able to gather feedback and react to it is Agile's primary objective. </p><h2>Conclusion</h2><p>Just as a chef needs to taste his dish while cooking to ensure the flavors are on point, continuous feedback is an essential ingredient in the recipe for successful software development and product management.</p><p>By embracing feedback in various forms - from human-to-human interactions to product metrics and beyond - you'll create an environment where learning, growth, and improvement thrive. So go on, add a dash of continuous feedback to your development process and watch the magic happen!</p>​<br>#agile;#development;#productivity;#project-management;#team-collaboration
The Myth of Bigger Teams: Why Smaller Can Be Better Myth of Bigger Teams: Why Smaller Can Be Better<p>​​​​In an effort to counter inefficiency and increase productivity, organizations often turn to increasing team size. The logic seems sound: more people means more hands on deck to tackle tasks and solve problems. However, this approach can often lead to growing overhead and inefficiencies.</p><p>Research has shown that small teams can often be more effective than larger ones. A study published in Harvard Business Review found that while large teams do advance and develop science, small teams are critical for disrupting it. Another study published in Forbes found that there is an ideal team size at which the benefits of putting more heads together are maximized and the drawbacks minimized.</p><p>So why do smaller teams often outperform larger ones? One reason is that large teams are more likely to have coordination and communication issues. Getting everyone on board for an unconventional hypothesis or method, or changing direction to follow a new lead can prove challenging with a larger group.</p><p>In contrast, smaller teams can be more nimble and adaptable. With fewer people involved, decision-making can be faster and communication more streamlined. This allows small teams to quickly pivot when needed and respond rapidly to changing circumstances.</p><p>This phenomenon is not limited to software development or business settings. In fact, examples can be found across different fields including military operations where smaller units are often able to operate with greater efficiency than larger ones.</p><p>Thus bigger isn’t always better when it comes to team size. Sometimes a highly productive team of 8 senior people can achieve better results than a mixed group of 60. Organizations would do well to consider this when trying to counter inefficiency.</p><h2>Effects of team size on performance</h2><p>But how exactly does this play out in practice? Let’s take a closer look at some real-world examples.</p><p>As more people are brought in to accelerate progress, it’​s not unusual for software development projects to expand in size, a phenomenon known as ballooning. However, this approach can often backfire as communication becomes more difficult and coordination issues arise.</p><p>For example, imagine a project with 60 developers working on different parts of the codebase. With so many people involved, it becomes increasingly difficult for everyone to stay on the same page. Code conflicts become more common as developers unknowingly overwrite each other’s work. Meetings become longer as everyone tries to get up-to-speed on what everyone else is doing.</p><p>Now imagine the same project with just 8 highly skilled developers working together closely. Communication is easier because there are fewer people involved. Coordination issues are less likely because everyone has a clear understanding of what their colleagues are working on.</p><p>In the military, for example, special forces units like Navy SEALs or Army Rangers typically operate in small teams of around 8-10 members. These elite soldiers are highly trained and capable of operating independently from larger units.</p><p>In contrast, traditional infantry units may have hundreds or even thousands of soldiers operating together in large formations. While these units have their own strengths such as overwhelming firepower or logistical support capabilities they may lack the agility and adaptability of smaller special forces units.</p><h2>Automation as an integral part of an organization</h2><p>As companies grow and evolve, it’s important to consider the impact of organizational change on teams and processes. One key area to focus on is automation. By automating tasks and processes, companies can improve efficiency and reduce the need for manual labor. Let’s take a closer look at how automation can affect teams and collaboration.</p><p>Automation can have a significant impact on organizational change. By automating tasks and processes, teams can minimize manual effort and errors, and enhance feedback loops throughout the software development lifecycle. This can lead to smaller chunks of better-quality code releases in less time. Automation can also reduce the need for basic data-input and -processing skills which will be particularly affected by automation.</p><p>The adoption of automation technologies will transform the workplace. Deliberately automating aspects of testing, code styling, integrating, and deploying should aim to reduce the time and human labor needed to develop, deploy and verify the product increment. DevOps automation is applied across the entire lifecycle, including design, development, software deployment, and release, as well as monitoring.</p><p>The primary objective of DevOps automation is to streamline the DevOps lifecycle by reducing manual workload. This automation results in several key improvements: it lessens the need for large teams, drastically reduces human errors, increases team productivity, and creates a fast-moving DevOps lifecycle.</p><h2>Why avoiding larger teams may be beneficial</h2><p>Some common antipatterns may arise when trying to involve more people rather than keeping a small team. As organizations grow in size they may implement measures such as code freezes or external approvals for deployment in an attempt to manage complexity. While these measures may provide some benefits they can also hinder agile development by slowing down decision-making processes.</p><p>They might as well include authoritative behaviors where senior members impose their will on others or create an environment where team members form informal silos within the team based on common interests. This all leads to a lack of trust where team members don’t trust each other’s abilities; this in turn keeps them from delegating tasks effectively. The whole environment just becomes much harder to work in.</p><p>In actuality, the bulk value or result created by a smaller team might be even bigger (let alone cheaper) than the result yielded by a larger yet rigid group. Smaller teams have fewer coordination issues, this allows them to make quicker decisions and deliver faster results.</p><p>When undergoing an agile transformation, companies should consider carefully how they scale agile development across multiple teams in order to avoid unnecessarily large teams. One way companies can achieve this is by creating cross-functional teams which helps reduce the need for scaling agile by merging various departments together.</p><p>Sometimes, however, having large teams becomes a necessity when the product is large and complex. In spite of this, there are frequent cases of software development where teams that could have stayed small if transformation had been done right. In such cases product size is still manageable by a small team, but a large group is now working on it. In such situations companies should aim at creating cross-functional teams, this reduces the need for scaling agile by merging various departments together.</p><h2>Conclusion</h2><p>To wrap up, here are a few basic areas for consideration:</p><ul><li>Conduct a thorough analysis: Before scaling up, teams should conduct a thorough analysis of their current processes and workflows to identify areas that may benefit from additional resources. This can help teams avoid adding unnecessary team members and instead focus on areas where additional resources will have the greatest impact.</li><li>Consider alternative approaches: Teams should also consider alternative approaches to scaling such as implementing new technologies or processes that can help improve efficiency without necessarily adding more team members.</li><li>Automate everything possible: Teams should automate everything necessary to minimize manual effort and errors, enhance feedback loops throughout the software development lifecycle. An effective continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline integrates automation tools and workflows an organization needs to build, compile, test and release its applications. Remote development teams cannot rely on end-users to perform robust user acceptance testing. They will need to automate platform, API, functionality, performance, and security testing.</li><li>Develop a clear plan: Teams should develop a clear scale-up plan that should include timelines, milestones and metrics. This can help ensure that everyone is on the same page and working towards a common goal.</li><li>Involve all stakeholders: When considering scaling up, it#39;s essential for teams to involve all stakeholders in the decision-making process to ensure their inclusion. This includes not only team members but also customers, suppliers and other partners who may be impacted by the decision.</li></ul><p>The key takeaway here is that organizations should carefully consider team size when trying to counter inefficiency or improve productivity. While adding more people may seem like an obvious solution it may actually lead to growing overhead and inefficiencies. While there may be instances where expansion is inevitable, disregarding the potential benefits of remaining small can prove to be expensive.</p>​<br>#agile;#development;#productivity;#project-management;#team-collaboration