Interruptions: A User's Manual

Interruptions are one of the best ways to squander time and money, but the value chain is not always obvious. This handy guide will help you make the case for why you should be interrupting your developers (nay, any employee!) regularly.

Interruption are at the core of two amazing loops that you can use to spend time and money. Even though the chain is out there for all to see, it’s also easy to miss in the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Let’s look at it step by step.

Loop, the first

Here’s the simple interruption. It doesn’t look like much, but it carries great power.

The first thing an interruption will do to developers is that it’ll distract them.

Distractions are simple enough, right? Devs just get back to work. But while that’s possible in theory, in reality, repeated distractions are a source of mistakes.

Those little things that slip by because you are distracted can go unnoticed. This means they’ll probably make it into production. If they do, then they’ll engender emergency requests and production support tickets.

Those emergency requests need to be handled, of course, which engenders a new interruption.

There we go, a perfect feedback loop for unnecessarily spending money.

But wait, there’s more! That’s not the only way in which interruptions can help you!

Loop, the second

Interruptions also cause a loss of focus on developers.

Developers can easily be mistaken for keyboard-banging machines. If they were, the trifling interruption would hold no power over them. But it turns out there’s a substantial amount of effort required from a developer to get to a point where they can concentrate. This amount of time required for “getting in the zone” can range from 20 minutes to an hour.

Any interruption will then cause delays on whatever they were working on. You can use this hack to waste time!

“But what’s 20 minutes?”, I hear you ask. “I need to waste more time than that!”

Keep in mind that not only is the 20 minute a low-ball estimate, you are paying this cost twice: it’ll take them time to focus on whatever you interrupted them for, and again to focus on what they were working on originally. That means a “five-minute thing” can cost you a couple of hours. Win!

Now, I know we all love our estimates. They are the last remnant of decency and order since the rabble forced us to get rid of deadlines. Enough “five-minute things”, and you’ll easily run over whatever estimates you had.

But of course it doesn’t stop there, does it? Whatever they were working on, you probably had some other tasks lined up for right after the estimate, didn’t you? This means that as the deadline… ahem… ETA looms nearer, you’ll be able to start asking if we are there yet. You’ll get worried about the amount of work still to be done. You’ll ask them to re-plan.

You’ll interrupt them again.

Another loop closed.


So there we go, folks! String enough “five-minute things” together, and you can easily reduce the quality of your work, lower employee satisfaction and increase your costs. You don’t even need to do all the work yourself: individuals from all departments can chip in with a small interruption here or there.

The next time you realise you have too much available time, or that you are unsure how to spend your ample development budget, remember: interruptions are here to help.


Ricardo J. Méndez