Fog Creek

Protecting the Maker’s Schedule From Chat

OK, we’ve all done it. You spotted a little issue, or couldn’t remember something. So you opened up Chat and quickly pinged a colleague about it. It wasn’t that important to you, but it was right there in the front of your mind, so you asked anyway. Harmless, right?

Well, maybe not. At least not for creatives. Developers, designers and anyone else who creates or builds things, work in a different way to most people. They work on a ‘Maker’s Schedule‘ as Paul Graham puts it, based around units of time of half a day at least. Unlike managers, sales people, and other team members who have fractured days – working in short, hourly blocks around meetings. Makers work best in blocks of uninterrupted time. For a maker, even a single meeting, or other interruption during this creative time can prove disruptive. What may seem like a minor interruption – a single question pinged on chat – distracts them and takes them out of their flow.

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Our solution is to file a case. Shocker – the creators of an issue tracker think cases are great. But along with private offices for developers and a healthy absence of meetings, it’s something that has been a critical part of our culture for a long time. And honestly, we just think it’s the solution that’s most respectful of a colleague’s time. By simply creating a case with the relevant details, the issue is documented and assigned to the maker in a manner that minimizes disruption. This allows them to prioritize and action the issue at a time that fits their workflow.

As a recent Creeker, I must admit this took some getting used to. I had cases for the smallest of tasks and even just questions. Cases didn’t seem as gentle as chat, but somehow harsher, maybe even passive-aggressive. I think it’s because by creating a case, it made it a Thing® rather than just a quick question. Cases are permanent, whereas chat feels temporary. But, in fact, if you raise a random question on chat then it’s doing the receiver a disservice. It suggests that what you want to discuss is more important than whatever they’re working on.

Chat can also be limbo for information. Whoever you pinged on chat may have read it, but this doesn’t mean they were really paying attention. The onus is on the recipient to handle the information received. So often, you just get back a lacklustre response and the problem gets forgotten about, lost amongst the Cat Gifs and integration notifications.

What’s more, a problem raised in a 1-to-1 chat prevents others from working on it too. So it can increase the communication cost if it has to be passed on to someone else. Chat also seems to demand an immediate response. Sure, you can set your status to ‘busy’, but we don’t always remember to do that, and how often is it noticed or respected anyway?

This isn’t to say don’t use chat. We use it all the time across the company. It’s more to do with using the right form of communication for the task or question. Do you really need an immediate response, and from that one person? The simplest thing for you to do at that moment isn’t without its consequences for others. So, don’t ping me. File a case.