Work in Cycles

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Work In Cycles

James Leigh Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Our bodies are full of natural cycles and our productivity is no different. The human brain cannot focus on any single issue for more than a few hours at a time. Ideal work days are designed to ensure that the body has time to rest and refocus every 90 to 180 minutes. Productivity has been shown to degrade after about 90-120 minutes of work, requiring the brain to change focus before productivity can increase.

The most effective software projects are created in environments that ensure developers are mentally productive. However, many things that contribute to a developers productivity are out of the control of their software project manager. You can’t ensure that they eat appropriately, or sleep enough hours at night. However, a project manager can help ensure that a developer's productivity does not degrade during the day, by encouraging frequent breaks and providing opportunity for nutrition. The old saying that developers are driven by their stomachs is true.

Studies also show that projects are more successful when broken into iterations. By creating weekly or monthly sub-projects; complete with goals, priorities, feedback and releases; software bugs can be mitigated and developer satisfaction can be increased. Breaking the work into smaller iterations provides opportunities to track progress and acknowledge good results. It also gives everyone in the team the opportunity to reflect and give feedback to one another and improve communication.

Every cycle should include: a planning stage, an action stage, a completion stage, and a reward stage. Before beginning on any action item, ask yourself or your team these questions. Why, when, how, what and who? Why are we doing this? When is this going to be complete? How are we going to do this? What are we going to accomplish? Who on our team will be responsible for each portion of the item? With proper communication and understanding, the action stage can be effective and productive, contributing to the overall success of the project.

Once a task or action item is complete, get outside feedback. If one or two members of the team completed the work, get another team member to review it (peer-review). If the entire team completed the work, get feedback from other stakeholders (preferably end-users). The final stage of any cycle is the reward stage, this is important for the sustainable health of any team or individual. As a battery must be recharged after use, the brain and body must be rewarded through recognition or acknowledgment of work.

As a software project manager, it is important to guide the team through project cycles, ensuring that every person understands the plan and gets the feedback he or she needs. Furthermore each individual must follow his or her own daily cycle of planning, doing, completing, and being rewarded. The manager must ensure that each person gets the attention, information, and time he or she needs to keep his or her productivity at its best. This way you can ensure your team is functioning at its full capacity.

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