How Long It Takes to Close

Our Policy expects our developers to be fast. Section §36 pays for quicker delivery and §8 penalizes slow movers by removing them if they don’t close in ten days (at the time of writing). Why even ten days, if our tasks are so small? And how long does it really take to close an average task? Can we do something to close them sooner?

This is a very common confusion, which is why I decided to write this blog post. When I talk to our new clients, they usually ask me how can it be that a small half-hour task takes five days to close and isn’t that a serious bottleneck for the entire project? They’re more used to thinking that a programmer says it will take a week to implement, and then in one calendar week, give or take, the result is delivered.

In our case a programmer says that it will take 30 minutes and the result is delivered in, say, seven days. And then the programmer is paid for 30 minutes of his or her work time. It sounds weird for those who don’t understand how pay-per-result microtasking works. Let me explain.

There are two different things in each task, which are barely connected to each other: the budget (cost) and the duration (time). We programmers are the resources the project purchases to complete its work packages, which, when they get assembled together, produce a working software module. When a house is built, the resources are the bricks, the cement, the windows, the tiles, and the hands of construction workers. When a software product is created, the resources are… the hands of programmers and almost nothing else.

These resources are the first axis of a project’s multi-dimensional matrix, while the calendar time is the second one. To build a house we need, say, five people to work for 80 hours straight, which equates to 400 staff hours. And we obviously also need the bricks, the cement, and everything else. Ten calendar days won’t be enough, for example, if the truck that delivers the bricks is delayed for a few days. We may spend those 400 staff hours many times over if our work is not properly organized, or just because people are people.

The same is true for software projects, but there are no bricks and cement. There are only people, and they are late, very often. When a task of 30 minutes is in the hands of one programmer, it doesn’t mean he or she can finish it in exactly 30 minutes. There are many dependencies, things which we have to wait for, sometimes for days. Here is a non-exhaustive summary of what a regular programmer has to go through in order to complete a pretty regular microtask:

  • Understand the scope of the ticket;
  • Ask ticket reporter to refine the description;
  • Open up the code repository;
  • Find the place where the changes are required;
  • Submit a few other tickets, if the code is not clear and clean enough;
  • Discuss the changes made in those tickets;
  • Close the tickets and maybe submit new ones;
  • Create a Git branch;
  • Make changes;
  • Run the build and make sure it’s green;
  • Commit and push the changes;
  • Create a pull request;
  • Respond to the comments of the code reviewer;
  • Make required changes to the branch;
  • Respond to the comments of the architect and make changes;
  • Make sure the PR passes the merge pipeline;
  • Ask ticket author to close it;
  • Argue with the author;
  • Start it all over if the problem is not solved.

As you see, the actual code writing line is somewhere in the middle of this list and it’s called “Make changes.” Everything else is not directly related to code writing. It’s all about delivering the changes and making sure they are accepted.

The smartest programmers know how to keep the “make changes” part as small and quick as possible, in order to leave more time and energy for everything else. Also, the smartest programmers know how to make changes in a way that gets them accepted faster. It seems to be a combination of discipline, enthusiasm, and art. It’s difficult to explain what exactly needs to be done and how. This is what sociotech skills are all about.

The bottom line is that our best programmers close 30-minute micro tasks in 4-5 days each. Zerocrat assigns them many tasks at the same time, in accordance with section §3, expecting each programmer to close from six to eight tasks per day.