I am excited to announce our first paper to the CSCW conference!
Abstract: One way to improve the productivity of knowledge workers is to increase their self-awareness about productivity at work through self-monitoring. Yet, little is known about expectations of, the experience with, and the impact of self-monitoring in the workplace. To address this gap, we studied software developers, as one community of knowledge workers. We used an iterative, user-feedback-driven development approach (N=20) and a survey (N=413) to infer design elements for workplace self-monitoring, which we then implemented as a technology probe called WorkAnalytics. We field-tested these design elements during a three-week study with software development professionals (N=43). Based on the results of the field study, we present design recommendations for self-monitoring in the workplace, such as using experience sampling to increase the awareness about work and to create richer insights, the need for a large variety of different metrics to retrospect about work, and that actionable insights, enriched with benchmarking data from co-workers, are likely needed to foster productive behavior change and improve collaboration at work. Our work can serve as a starting point for researchers and practitioners to build self-monitoring tools for the workplace.
Co-Authors: André N. Meyer (University of Zurich), Gail C. Murphy (University of British Columbia), Tom Zimmermann (Microsoft Research), Thomas Fritz (University of Zurich)
Knowledge workers experience many interruptions during their work day. Especially when they happen at inopportune moments, interruptions can incur high costs, cause time loss and frustration. Knowing a person’s interruptibility allows optimizing the timing of interruptions and minimize disruption. Recent advances in technology provide the opportunity to collect a wide variety of data on knowledge workers to predict interruptibility. While prior work predominantly examined interruptibility based on a single data type and in short lab studies, we conducted a two-week ﬁeld study with 13 professional software developers to investigate a variety of computer interaction, heart-, sleep-, and physical activity-related data. Our analysis shows that computer interaction data is more accurate in predicting interruptibility at the computer than biometric data (74.8% vs. 68.3% accuracy), and that combining both yields the best results (75.7% accuracy). We discuss our ﬁndings and their practical applicability also in light of collected qualitative data.
This work has been conducted by André Meyer (UZH), Thomas Zimmermann (Microsoft Research) and Thomas Fritz (UBC). This research has been published to the industrial papers track at the ESEM’17 in Toronto. Thomas Zimmermann will present it on Thursday, November 9th, 2017 at 1pm in Session 4B: Qualitative Research. Download Pre-Print
Studying Developers’ Perceptions of Productivity instead of Measuring it
To overcome the ever-growing demand for software, we need new ways of optimizing the productivity of software developers. Existing work has predominantly focused on top-down approaches for defining or measuring productivity, such as lines of code, function points, or completed tasks over time. While these measurements are valuable to compare certain aspects of productivity, we argue that they miss the many other factors that influence the success and productivity of a software developer, such as the fragmentation of their work, their experience, and so on. A developer who spends the workday with writing a high-quality test-case or helping a co-worker would have a bad productivity-score with said measurements. Hence, in our previous work we looked at productivity from the bottom-up, looking at developers’ individual perceptions of productivity contrary to what was done in previous work. We found that while perceptions of productivity are indeed very individual, they follow certain habitual patterns each day (e.g. Morning-People, Low-At-Lunch People, and Afternoon-People) and there are activities that most developers consider as unproductive or productive.
Similar Perceptions of Productivity
This previous work however, left us questioning if there are possibly more people with similar perceptions of productivity that can be clustered together. To investigate this, we run an online survey with 413 professional software developers who currently work at Microsoft (average experience 9.6 years) and asked them four questions asking them to describe productive (Q1) and unproductive (Q2) workdays, to rate their agreement with statements on factors that might affect productivity (Q3) and to rate the interestingness of productivity measures at work (Q4).
We found out that developers can roughly be clustered into six groups with similar perceptions: the lone, focused, balanced, leading, and goal-oriented developer. This allows us to abstract and simplify the variety of individual perceptions into groups and optimize productivity for these groups instead of individuals. In the following, I will describe the specific characteristics of these groups:
The social developers feel productive when helping coworkers, collaborating and doing code reviews. To get things done, they come early to work or work late and try to focus on a single task.
The lone developers avoid disruptions such as noise, email, meetings, and code reviews. They feel most productive when they have little to no social interactions and when they can work on solving problems, fixing bugs or coding features in quiet and without interruptions. To reflect about work, they are mostly interested in knowing the frequency and duration of interruptions they encountered. Note that this group of developers is almost the opposite of the first group (the social developer) in how productive they feel when encountering social interactions.
The focused developers feel most productive when they are working efficiently and concentrated on a single task at a time. They are feeling unproductive when they are wasting time and spend too much time on a task, because they are stuck or working slowly. They are interested in knowing the number of interruptions and focused time.
The balanced developers are less affected by disruptions. They are less likely to come early to work or work late. They are feeling unproductive, when tasks are unclear or irrelevant, they are unfamiliar with a task, or when tasks are causing overhead.
The leading developers are more comfortable with meetings and emails and feel less productive with coding activities than other developers. They feel more productive in the afternoon and when they can write and design things. They do not like broken builds and blocking tasks, preventing them (or the team) from doing productive work.
The goal-oriented developers feel productive when they complete or make progress on tasks. They feel less productive when they multi-task, are goal-less or are stuck. They are more open to meetings and emails compared to the other clusters, in case they help them achieve their goals. In contrast to group 3 (the focused developer), goal-oriented developers care more about actually getting stuff done (i.e. crossing items off the todo-list), while the focused developer cares more about working efficiently.
Optimizing Productivity for Different Groups of Developers
The six clusters and their characteristics provide relevant insights into groups of developers with similar productivity perceptions that can be used to optimize the work and flow on the team and the individual level. The differences between software developers’ preferred collaboration and work styles show that not all developers are alike, and that the cluster an individual or team belongs to could be a basis for tailoring actions for improving their work and productivity.
For example, on the teamlevel, we could provide quiet, less interruption-prone office to the lone and focused developers (cluster 2 and 3), and seat social developers (cluster C1) who feel more comfortable with discussions every now and then. Another example is task assignments, assigning an explorative task for a new product that is very open without clear goal might be less suitable for the goal-oriented developer (cluster 6) as opposed to the social and leading developer (cluster 1 and 5) who prefer explorative tasks that require intensive collaboration.
On the individual level, developers might benefit from tailored user experiences for their (development) tools. Maybe someday, we can build virtual assistants, e.g. Cortana/Alexa for Developers, that recommend (or automatically take) actions, depending on the developers’ cluster. For example, they could block out notifications from email, Slack, and Skype during coding sessions for the lone developer (cluster 2) but allow them for the social developer (cluster 1). Or they could recommend the focused developer (cluster 3) to come to work early to have uninterrupted work time, or suggest the balanced developer (cluster 4) to take a break to avoid boredom and tiredness. Or they could help with scheduling meetings, depending on the users’ preferences.
In the paper (find a pre-print here) you may find more detailed explanations into the study method, and a much more detailed discussion of the clusters.
We are extremely happy to announce our newest project, FlowLight, a traffic-light-like light for knowledge workers to reduce their interruptions at work, and makes them more productive! The research project, published with the title “Reducing Interruptions at Work: A Large-Scale Field Study of FlowLight”, was conducted in close collaboration with researchers at ABB. It was also awared with an Honorable Mention award.
Authors: Manuela Züger, Christopher Corley, André N. Meyer, Boyang Li, Thomas Fritz, David Shepherd, Vinay Augustine, Patrick Francis, Nicholas Kraft, Will Snipes
Various previous work has emphasized how bad constant interruptions and fragmentation of work is for knowledge workers’ productivity, the quality of their work, and also their motivation at work. When we were observing knowledge workers at their work in a previous study, we realized that signals, such as wearing headphones or closing their office door, were often used to visualize that they don’t want to be interrupted right now. However, this manual approach was often considered as quite cumbersome and not everybody was aware of these signs. Also, the long-term impact on teams and their work was unclear. This is why we developed the FlowLight, a physical traffic-light like LED combined with an automatic interruptibility measure based on computer interaction data.
In a large-scale and long-term field study with 449 participants from 12 different countries, we found, amongst other results, that the FlowLight reduced interruptions of participants by 46%, increased their awareness on the potential disruptiveness of interruptions, and most participants are still using it today!
This is a first step towards making knowledge workers more aware of, and reducing, interruptions at work. In the future, we plan to add extended computer interaction context and biometric sensing to improve FlowLight’s algorithm, to make it even more accurate.
Presentation & Demo at CHI’17
In case you are planning to attend the CHI’17 Conference in Denver next week, make sure to come to our presentation and learn much more about the FlowLight! The talk will take place on Monday, 9th 2017 at 11.30a to 12.50p.
We are happy to announce that our paper “Using (Bio)Metrics to Predict Code Quality Online”, written by Sebastian Müller and Thomas Fritz, was one of the most downloaded software engineering articles in June and July 2016. With 1709 downloads in 6 weeks, it scored the second place of all ACM software engineering articles. According to ACM, this is the first time that any paper was downloaded more than 1000 times.
The paper investigates the use of biometrics, such as heart rate variability (HRV) or electro-dermal activity (EDA) to determine the difficulty that developers experience while working on real world change tasks and automatically identify code quality concerns while a developer is making a change to the code. It can be accessed here.
We are excited to announce that Joel Scheuner has received a University of Zurich semester award in the fall semester 2014 for his excellent bachelor thesis Cloud WorkBench – A Web-Based Framework for Benchmarking Cloud Services.
We are excited to announce that out paper “Discovering Loners and Phantoms in Commit and Issue Data” has been accepted for the 23rd IEEE International Conference on Program Comprehension (ICPC 2015) in Florence, Italy.
The interlinking of commit and issue data has become a de-facto standard in software development. Modern issue tracking systems, such as JIRA, automatically interlink commits and issues by the extraction of identifiers (e.g., issue key) from commit messages. However, the conventions for the use of interlinking methodologies vary between software projects. For example, some projects enforce the use of identifiers for every commit while others have less restrictive conventions. In this work, we introduce a model called PaLiMod (Partial Linking Model) to enable the analysis of interlinking characteristics in commit and issue data. We surveyed 15 Apache projects to investigate differences and commonalities between linked and non-linked commits and issues (RQ1). Based on the gathered information, we created a set of heuristics to interlink the residual of non-linked commits and issues (RQ2).
We observed that in the majority of the analyzed projects, the number of commits linked to issues is higher than the number of commits without link. On average, 74% of commits are linked to issues and 50% of the issues have associated commits. Based on the survey data, we identified two interlinking characteristics which we call Loners (one commit, one issue) and Phantoms (multiple commits, one issue). For these two characteristics, we proposed heuristics to automatically interlink non-linked commit and issue data. The evaluation results showed that our approach can achieve an overall precision of 96% with a recall of 92% in case of the Loner heuristic and an overall precision of 73% with a recall of 53% in case of the Phantom heuristic.
The results of our evaluation indicate that the proposed PaLiMod model and heuristics enable an automatic interlinking and can indeed reduce the residual of non-linked commits and issues in software projects.
Our paper “Would Static Analysis Tools Help Developers with Code Reviews?” has been accepted as full research paper for the 2015 IEEE International Conference on Software Analysis, Evolution, and Reengineering in Montreal, Canada.