My teammates are not afraid to ask help whenever they are stuck. We trust each others. We believe in each other. Disagreements areÂ common but it makes us stronger. We work in an open space so it’s easy to get information to everyone.
That sucks. We talk too much. We get distracted from our own problem to help someone else. We ask questions aloud because we know someone will answer, then an argument follows and every one pitches in. Being passionate has drawbacks.
And then we discovered the Pomodoro Technique.
The Pomodoro Technique aims to provide increased productivity by splitting time into small increments of work without interruptions. To explain it in one sentence : work for 25 minutes, take a 5 minutes break. If you want to know more about the Pomodoro Technique, check their web site. I’m far from being an expert on the subject. My goal is to share my experience and what we gained by using this technique.
A few teammates talked about the Pomodoro Technique during an Open Space a month ago. As with many good ideas in open spaces, this one went dormant for a while. An afternoon two weeks ago though, something changed. The sprint was in peril. We all felt the urgency to change though we weren’t sure what. After a brief explanation of the technique, we decided to try one big team Pomodoro.
There was something magical about our first Pomodoro. Silence. Concentration. No interruptions. After 25 minutes we took a break and regrouped. We needed to synchronize. I remember discussing the API between two parts of the application. A quick review – were we willing to try another Pomodoro? Unanimous answer: YES!
We did four Pomodoros for our first day then held a quick retro. We didn’t have concrete numbers but we all felt increased concentration and productivity. We decided to continue for one more day and see how it goes.
We’ve been using the Pomodoro Technique for two weeks now. Not all our work is done during a Pomodoro. We do about four Pomodoros in the morning and another four in the afternoon. I’m pretty sure it improved our productivity though I have no hard numbers to prove it. We have a rhythm of very intense work followed by an explosion of discussions to synchronize everyone. Every Pomodoro, we commit to work on one thing. During the 5 minute break, questions are asked, new pairs are formed, help is offered and given, tasks are switched. The work done in a Pomodoro is diverse. It could be pairing, writing documentation, sending an important email, a design session… The important thing is to work on whatever you commited to.
We do look like weirdos. There is a whiteboard with a big tomato (Pomodoro means tomato in Italian) indicating to everyone else in the company that we are currently in a Pomodoro – do not bother us. We’ve been told that the pace a Pomodoro dictates is very hard to follow. The team doesn’t feel that way at all though. Colleagues outside the team need to get used to us sending them back to their desk if we’re in the middle of a Pomodoro, but a few started to come in and watch our clock before interrupting. One thing is sure : lots of people started to talk about us.
The Pomodoro Techniques works. Even when we are not officially in a Pomodoro I find interruptions to be less frequent. We salvaged a sprint and the current one is one the way to success in part due this technique. The fact that the entire team decided to try it at the same time helped a lot to see the effectiveness right away. I tried a few other productivity techniques and so far this one had the most impact. You have to try to see for yourself.
Photo by Darren Hester