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Cut back Friction – Ceejbot’s notes

Cut back Friction – Ceejbot’s notes

2023-06-13 01:32:41

The subject of lowering friction exhausts me: Do individuals nonetheless have to be persuaded to assist their builders go quicker? Actually? On this, the 12 months 2022? However sure, on this, the 12 months 2022, many groups require persuasion on this matter. Or quite, their leaders require persuasion that they must do greater than give lip service to this precept, and that they have to make investments assets in making it so, and that these assets is not going to be “wasted” assets, not even for that individual, the one, the official VP of Characteristic Manufacturing facility.

Some leaders usually are not anxious about losing time, however are as an alternative anxious that devoting brains to this work will gradual groups down. They admit that present processes are stuffed with friction, however declare that they’ve to complete no matter they’re in the course of earlier than they need to attempt to sort things. They assume that lowering friction is a distraction from the actual work. This strategy is short-sighted. One of the best time to cut back friction on your staff was the second it got here into being, and the second greatest time is now.

I’m going to cowl three matters on this put up. First, I’ll outline what we imply by “developer friction”. Then I’ll make the case about why lowering friction is helpful to engineering organizations, together with advantages in areas I didn’t count on. After which I’ll go into concrete strategies about how you can do it, and the mindset that you should convey to serious about it. As is true with many different posts on this weblog sequence, its viewers is people who find themselves technical leaders of their group, however I hope anyone who needs to assist their engineering org do higher work can get one thing out of this.

Defining our phrases

Let’s begin by defining “course of”. Course of is the way in which you habitually do issues. Don’t confuse course of with ceremony or formality, or some other time period you’d like to make use of to explain overhead added to the core of the factor you wish to get carried out. You all the time have course of. You won’t have thoughtfully-designed, intentional course of.

“Ceremony” is a factor you do each time, ritualistically, normally involving different individuals. Common conferences are a sort of ceremony. “Formality” refers to how prescribed and enforced a course of is. When individuals react to “course of” as a nasty factor, they’re normally pondering of processes with heavy formality or extra ceremony than they’re price.

An instance of a staff course of: “We desire to have code PRs reviewed earlier than we land them in most important. It’s okay if docs or different non-functional modifications don’t get reviewed and go straight into most important.”

Including ceremony: “All modifications must undergo PRs, although we don’t require evaluation.”

Including extra ceremony: “All modifications should undergo PRs with evaluation, however we’re okay if evaluations are a rubber stamp.”

Including formality: “We require that every one PRs be reviewed & all CI checks go earlier than they’ll land in most important, and we implement this with settings in our supply code repo that solely directors can change.”

Right here’s a non-tech instance of ceremony which may show you how to acknowledge it: pointing and calling. This can be a ceremony that helps operators of harmful tools (most frequently trains) affirm to one another what the standing of necessary indicators is. Station guards will level at an indicator exhibiting which facet of the prepare to open the doorways on, and name out as they achieve this, ensuring the prepare conductor is aware of which set of doorways to open. Including a ceremony to the method helps the operators keep away from opening the flawed set of doorways. One other instance of this is able to be lockout-tagout. This formal ceremony ensures that individuals know when harmful tools is deactivated and may be labored on safely.

Let’s discuss “friction”, the primary factor this put up is anxious about. Friction is elevated in a course of in every of the examples above. “Friction” is a helpful metaphor right here as a result of every of these examples oppose movement: they demand extra power be invested in shifting the venture than could be required in the event that they weren’t there. This may be a good suggestion! Lockout-tagout makes tools safer to take care of. The bottom potential friction model of the PR instance above is “we don’t care if code will get reviewed; merge proper into that manufacturing department.” You possibly can see why including friction in requiring PRs may be good for that staff.

Including friction is simply high quality when it buys you one thing worthwhile.

Groups with excessive ranges of belief don’t want greater than that first model of the PR course of. Groups that don’t belief one another–or are maybe required to not belief one another due to mandated safety processes–want one thing extra just like the fully-formal model. A staff that wants that fully-formal model will transfer extra slowly than the primary staff. Is that this price the price? It will depend on the scenario! Your objective is to establish your staff’s work habits and work surroundings and establish issues which are slowing all people down with out shopping for you one thing worthwhile.

Generally course of is… properly, ludicrous and clearly inflicting hurt. This Twitter thread is stuffed with pure, wasteful friction. Merely studying it raises my stress ranges.

Course of isn’t the one supply of non-obligatory friction, and it won’t be probably the most painful supply. As an alternative, the work surroundings is commonly the worst supply. The instruments. The platform. CI workflows. Automation or, extra possible, the absence of automation. Issues that break and require human intervention. Buggy instruments. Gradual instruments. Issues individuals must do typically which are flaky. Builds that take perpetually and decelerate develop-test loops. Steady integration testing that takes a very long time to run and slows down touchdown all work. Gradual deploy processes that make the price of pushing modifications dwell excessive, and subsequently makes pushing modifications harmful.

The opposite time period we have to outline is “toil”. The English phrase means “labor that tires you out”. Within the context of tech world jargon, we use it to imply work that’s draining or time-consuming that doesn’t appear to be associated to the core of what we have to get carried out. Repeated work. Predictable routine work. A course of that’s predictable and time-consuming however must be carried out by hand is toil. Resolving Dependabot PRs to your repos is toil: it appears like work however accomplishes nothing worthwhile.

You shouldn’t tolerate both toil or instruments distress. They’re totally avoidable, and so they’re killing your staff’s velocity and making all people sad. Take inventory of issues on this class, prioritize them, and eradicate them.

Making the case

You may assume it might be simple to level to those sources of slow-down and say, “let’s make things better”. In observe, you may get pushback. Why? What can we, as technical leaders, do concerning the resistance to creating issues higher?

First we should acknowledge that altering any system is tough: programs are self-reinforcing for a lot of causes. Folks inside the system see the value of change clearly, however they typically don’t have good methods to measure the rewards of change. Additionally (and let’s be sincere right here) all of us have lived by way of having change promoted to us as unalloyed good, then seen it become not so nice. Or actively terrible. Folks proposing change have the next bar to leap over than individuals who need the established order. So if you’d like change to occur, it’s important to make investments power your self. You’ll must make the case for motion.

Why hasn’t anybody else made the case? Why is your staff caught right here? Good questions! Do not forget that the individuals subsequent to you on this scenario in all probability hate the friction simply as a lot as you do. If they may cease it, they’d. As soon as once more, we have now to go to the system they’re in and look what what it reinforces. You, as an analyst of that system, have a better time coming out of it and altering it.

Let’s have a look at some the explanation why individuals round you may resist the push to make issues go quicker.

It didn’t occur in a single day

The staff may be unaware of how dangerous the issue really is. They won’t have seen it was taking place, as a result of it in all probability didn’t get dangerous abruptly; the slowdowns and the difficulty obtained worse slowly over time.

To point out how dangerous it’s and break individuals out of denial, you may go to the info. How expensive is the friction? Measure it! Rely the variety of occasions software X explodes and the staff wastes a day on cleanup. Graph how a lot time individuals spend ready for gradual builds. The information will show you how to prioritize, so it isn’t a waste. (I feel gathering metrics on inner instruments is an effective behavior for groups even when all people’s comfortable.)


The resistance to vary may come from a much more human and emotional place. Folks may be connected to the issues they constructed up to now, and reluctant to retire them. Don’t be a jerk concerning the software program previous variations of the staff wrote. Folks do the perfect they’ll given the circumstances they’re in. Options that solved the issues of the previous may not be good at fixing the issues of the current. Honor the work carried out earlier, and let individuals be ok with it whilst you’re coaxing them into changing it. Should you can, allow them to personal the work of constructing their factor higher. If that’s not potential, at the very least search out their suggestions and ask them what they’d do otherwise this time round. They in all probability have good concepts.

Generally individuals will block no matter work occurs. They could wish to retain management. They may be unable to confess they have been flawed about one thing. The more severe case I’ve seen was any person who merely resented all authority telling them what to do about something. Poisonous orgs in all probability function a number of individuals like that. Do I’ve to inform you what to do right here? You don’t wish to do it, since you’re a human being with empathy, however generally it’s important to fireplace individuals.


Organizations with a variety of friction may need individuals harassed by the work of pushing issues ahead regardless of the friction. Your most devoted and motivated colleagues may be working the toughest to do that, and struggling the worst stress because of this. Harassed individuals can’t think about including to their workload by revamping current programs that work, nonetheless poorly. They are going to resist change to guard themselves from their burdens getting worse.

That is an own-goal on the a part of the group. Leaders can stop this, and certainly should. Harassed individuals don’t do their greatest work. Full cease.

Harassed individuals must have their instant wants honored and work shifted away from them. You have to not take heed to their opinions about what can and can’t occur till you’ve fastened their instant emergency. Certainly, eradicating friction may give them the area to think about a greater world.

Don’t ask them to do the work of fixing their determined scenario. Repair it for them. This one’s on administration, and possibly on you, o fellow technical chief.

Discovered helplessness

Essentially the most miserable resistance to vary comes from individuals who say that that is how dangerous it all the time is. They will’t think about issues being higher.

Anecdote time! I as soon as labored for a reasonably profitable however not fairly profitable sufficient startup that made a {hardware} thingie you may even have heard of. Ultimately it was acquired by ConHugeCo Software program, Inc, a really very very massive firm certainly that you just’ve positively heard of. The brand new company homeowners needed their newly-acquired software program staff to work on venture Foobar, already in movement. Foobar had a variety of current course of and tooling and a staff that was already pushing it ahead. They have been behind. They have been engaged in bizarre political machinations to create excuses, they have been so behind. Absolutely this acquihired staff might assist!


Ultimately I joined venture Foobar, and I realized why it was behind. Getting a single commit into the supply repo for venture Foobar took at the very least half a day and generally a complete day. You needed to get into line to examine in. Once you have been head of the road, you needed to resolve any merge conflicts that have been attributable to the individuals who merged in since you bought into the road. (And no, this was not git.) You then needed to construct the complete factor, and that was gradual. Hours gradual. Then you definitely needed to check. Then you possibly can merge. Heaven show you how to should you broke the construct: there have been individuals who would get mad at you about that and penalties for it have been mentioned.

“Why,” I requested any person, “will we not have a construct staff making this quicker and higher?”

The reply stayed with me. It was: “No one needs to be on a construct staff. They get laid off when their work is completed.”

Laid off. Their work. Completed. Uh. What?

The tradition hole was epic and unbridgeable. The venture turned out to be a well-known catastrophe. Are you shocked? No? None of us at $acquiredCompany have been shocked, both. The buying staff couldn’t think about more healthy processes. The cudgel was their solely software. They didn’t repair something as a result of that’s the way in which issues have been.

That is realized helplessness. Reject it. Issues may be higher than that. It’s not solely potential however regular for issues to be higher. I do know that. You realize that. Get up for it.

Should you can’t, depart.

The optimistic argument

Let’s make the case with extra optimistic arguments. What’s going to you get by relentlessly lowering developer friction? The plain profit: the entire staff will go quicker. I’ve to name this out explicitly, as a result of a variety of the pushback to the thought of lowering friction comes from not serious about what this implies.

Everyone. Goes. Quicker.

Lowering the period of time it takes to do one thing by a pair orders of magnitude can have radical results not simply in variety however in class. When it took many minutes do obtain a single MP3 file, no one was streaming films. Now that gigabit fiber is an choice for a lot of houses, we’re streaming high-definition films on a whim. Belongings you couldn’t think about taking place earlier than develop into regular. You possibly can in all probability consider extra examples like this.

Right here’s a contemporary instance I’ve lived a few occasions now:

Deploys develop into quick: the price of making modifications is now low.
The price of making modifications is low: individuals develop into much less fearful of constructing modifications.
Much less concern: modifications get smaller and extra frequent.
Small, frequent modifications: much less harmful inherently, so failures occur much less typically.
Failures occur much less typically: the staff turns into extra assured.
A assured staff experiments and pushes themselves into making an attempt new issues.
All the pieces will get higher.

This can be a virtuous cycle. This explicit virtuous cycle may be promoted in plenty of methods–nice CI for example–however hey, even CI advantages from working quick. And often. And simply from a developer’s laptop computer and never only a a distant course of should you can wrangle that one. A barrier to doing one thing is a sort of friction too!

Friction is irritating. It generates stress. No one enjoys slogging by way of a ceremony they’ll’t see the advantages of. No one enjoys watching a deploy fail once more in the identical method because the earlier 5 occasions this week. Friction with out payoff makes individuals sad. To my thoughts, that is motive sufficient for fixing it. Content material people who find themselves snug and speaking recurrently with their colleagues do nice work; sad groups spend their time fretting about their unhappiness. The world is tense. Don’t add to it. That is ethically good in addition to pragmatic for no matter your shared enterprise is.

Let’s make a extra banal, money-based argument subsequent.

Wage is, for many corporations, the one largest value they’ve. Cease losing that cash! Why are you spending cash making your programmers do issues by hand that might be carried out by a small shell script? That is general a posh matter, and a variety of issues issue into your resolution to construct, purchase, or do nothing. Right here, we’re more than likely speaking about construct OR purchase vs doing nothing in any respect. A quick calculation of wage hours vs payoff is helpful for deciding when act in addition to when not to behave. Make a tough estimate of how a lot time your staff is spending losing on ready for builds (fixing one thing, pushing a repeated course of by hand, and so on.) for the complete 12 months, then evaluate that to what you’d make investments right into a single push into making that quicker.

As soon as once more, measurements assist to tell your selections. Should you don’t have knowledge, do one thing light-weight to get it.

Issues to attempt

You might be satisfied! You’ve satisfied others! You’ll be able to act to cut back your staff’s friction! How do you do it?

Begin by asking your staff what’s slowing them down. They are going to straight-up inform you what’s flawed. Hearken to experiences of irritation; if the irritation rises to the extent of frustration pay particular consideration. You won’t take your staff’s proposed options at face worth. Right here your staff is like every software program consumer, who will inform you all concerning the answer they’ve imagined, not the perfect answer you may present. Hearken to what persons are making an attempt to do and why they’re being prevented. Take note of the truth of their tales. Query all people’s assumptions about the way in which issues must be, together with your personal.

Think about what you’ll do within the ultimate case, should you have been designing the factor from scratch in the present day. Take a step towards that ultimate from the place you are actually. This is potential.

Should you’re utilizing dangerous software program, cease.

Is your system configuration software program driving you nuts? Change to one thing else. (It’s going to drive you nuts too, however maybe much less nuts.)

Is X well-known SAAS factor that was super-cheap to purchase driving your staff nuts? (I’m taking a look at you, ubiquitous however relentlessly mediocre well-known suite of instruments.) Change to one thing else.

Has your staff staged a revolt and began utilizing one thing that isn’t the official selection? Hearken to the ache of your staff. Honor the ache. Change to their selection. This isn’t about permitting chaos to reign, however about taking note of current indicators, and paying especial consideration to robust indicators.

See Also

Make staff software program modifications definitively and with out half-measures. Decide to the change. Retire the outdated stuff. Plan a cutover if needed so that you don’t depart mess behind: do any required knowledge migrations. Get suggestions on the outcomes. You shouldn’t make modifications like this on a whim until the price of change is fairly low, however doing it on the worst offenders generally is a large morale enhance.

Deal with inner instruments as necessary software program.

Work on inner instruments is highly-leveraged: each one in every of your builders will write higher software program when their instruments are good. It’s price devoting senior engineering brains to them. It’s price devoting your mind to them if there’s no one else. Your job, o fellow technical chief, is to make your staff profitable at constructing the widgets your group needs to construct. We should do the issues no one else can do.

If utilizing an off-the-shelf software isn’t potential, then the software you’re constructing is vital to your product. Deal with it like that. Take the work critically. Design it thoughtfully. Do your standard necessities evaluation! Who’s utilizing this software? What are they making an attempt to do? What are the efficiency and latency necessities? How ought to errors be dealt with or reported?

Sweat the output of inner instruments. Don’t bury necessary outcomes of CI in a garbage heap of uninteresting compiler output. Tufte’s design principles apply right here too.

Doing this evaluation on testing system output was super-fulfilling and useful for the customers of the check output.

Widespread software areas for you to consider:

  • Chat and video conferencing software program: is it dependable and high-quality?
  • Bug/situation/job trackers: assist or administrative burden?
  • Supply management software program and tooling round it.
  • Improvement environments: setup of any widespread software program that your staff wants to make use of. Examples could be particular variations of a language runtime or compiler wanted to develop software program.
  • Inner instruments that clear up issues particular to your inner workflows.
  • Construct programs, each for the develop/check loop and for launch processes.
  • Deploying software program. Is it quick? Is it dependable?
  • The substrate upon which software program will get deployed.
  • Automated testing, significantly integration testing.

Distribute inner instruments in compiled, packaged type. Don’t make individuals construct/set up them each time they should use them. Have sufficient launch course of for these instruments to make sure they work. Seek the advice of consumer comfort, not developer comfort right here. (The wants of the various, and so on and so on.)

Deal with your processes as worthy of considerate design.

I discussed earlier that you just all the time have course of, as a result of course of is the way in which you normally do issues. Take into consideration your processes and tweak them as wanted to take away pointless friction from them.

Water runs downhill. Folks all the time do the factor that’s best to do. Your objective is subsequently to make the proper factor to do the best factor to do. If persons are recurrently doing any end-run round a course of to get work carried out (say, recurrently asking for rubber-stamp PRs to allow them to be unblocked), you might have a course of that’s not incomes again its power value. Repair it.

What are the targets you desire a habitual-way-of-doing-things in an space to realize? What values do you wish to categorical? Be clear about them. Be clear concerning the priorities of your values. You may must honor excessive priorities and let decrease priorities go unfulfilled.

Ensure you have a suggestions loop someplace serving to you consider your new processes. Designing processes with out suggestions from the lived actuality is presumably worse than not designing them, since you’ll have individuals held accountable for doing issues that become dangerous concepts. Iterate. Enhance. Nothing want be set in stone. It’s okay to vary! It’s okay to take a look at the place persons are strolling proper now and pave these paths. It’s an honest start line.

Leap out of the system and look at its assumptions. A technique of reframing the “I’m blocked by no PR reviewer right here” downside is to note that the one that’s blocked did the work alone and has no staff or buddy who shares context concerning the work. In the event that they paired, they’d have an on the spot PR evaluation, and a fairly prime quality one. If the work was deliberate work and evaluation was blocked, maybe time for evaluations must be budgeted into your staff’s plans.

One of the best course of is one which your staff doesn’t even consider as a course of as a result of it’s been automated into invisibility.


Obliterate toil: automate it.

Automate ruthlessly. That is the place I’ve seen probably the most shocking pushback. We’re programmers. Automating processes is what we do! Folks will flinch about this, afraid of time spent automating issues that gained’t repay. Sure, we’ve all been there. So don’t do this. Don’t automate issues which are actually one-offs. If there’s any likelihood it’s important to do the identical factor greater than 5 occasions, automate it. If it’s advanced and tough for a human to do, automate it. If the blast radius of the explosion attributable to a human doing it flawed is massive, automate it. If the tip outcomes have to be the identical each time, automate it.

Infrastructure must be automated so far as you’ll be able to push it.

The upside of automation is that the software program that does the be just right for you may be instrumented.

Measure and observe.

This can be a corollary of deciding to deal with your instruments as necessary software program, but it surely’s price calling out.

Measure every part, and make the outcomes of the measurement seen. Measure how lengthy a course of takes. Measure how lengthy PRs sit unreviewed. How lengthy every step of a deploy takes and what number of deploys fail. Make all of this knowledge simple to take a look at.

Instrument your instruments so you understand how typically persons are utilizing them, how lengthy the runs takes, and whether or not they succeed or fail. (Don’t instrument so heavy-handedly that you just gradual them down.)

My favourite method to do that is to make use of Honeycomb to hint every part, not simply our manufacturing software program. At a latest job we instrumented builds, deploys, and CI runs this fashion. The output of these runs prominently included hyperlinks to Honeycomb’s visualizations of the traces. Each construct and deploy report included a hyperlink to a view like this about how lengthy it took:

a screenshot of a Honeycomb visualization of trace data from a build and deploy, showing timings for each step

Is that this deep? No. Did it take a very long time to do? Additionally no. Is it useful? Undoubtedly sure. Think about this, for every part. Think about this, telling you about timings for each single inner software you run, together with the exit code returned and who ran it. Think about how a lot better you may make each single software your staff makes use of with knowledge like this.

You may need one other software you want to make use of right here, which is nice! Please inform me about it on Twitter!

The deer, they’re teal

Right here’s what I’d such as you to remove from this weblog put up.

  • Friction is slowing down your staff.
  • The power value of overcoming friction wants to purchase you one thing worthwhile, or it must be diminished.
  • Examine friction by speaking to your staff. Frustration is a vital sign.
  • Observability isn’t simply on your manufacturing software program: measure every part. Use knowledge to tell your selections.
  • Order of magnitude modifications in value lead to totally new behaviors.
  • Design your processes.
  • Design your instruments.
  • Automate ruthlessly.
  • Arrange suggestions loops so that you be taught what’s working and what’s not.

Most significantly, you can repair it. Each little bit you repair provides you extra power again so you’ll be able to repair the subsequent factor. It will be well worth the funding.

My due to Chris Dickinson for the lockout-tagout and pointing-and-calling examples! Additionally my due to David Zink for modifying my prose right into a tighter type.

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