Open Door Meetings - How I can bother my colleagues without interrupting them
By Mike Street
I was listening to Episode 216 of the Coding Blocks podcast and the conversation of "Open Jim" hours came up. The idea being that a senior developer has some set hours (I think it was mentioned between 9-11am) where they can be interrupted, bothered and questioned. After that, the developer can get their head down on some work. No-one enjoys being forced to context switch and this has often been posed as a solution.
Naturally, senior developers are the ones who are asked more of - be it by the sales & project management teams to get quotes or by other developers for knowledge sharing. No matter how much documentation you have, there will always be a need to talk to people about something.
The "interruptible hours" solution tries to contain the context switching, but has several flaws; What if your problem occurs 10 minutes after the allotted time period? What if you are waiting for the next day and the senior is ill, or on holiday? What if there is a critical error to be solved during those hours? What if the person in the queue in front of you takes up all the time? What if a client meeting is scheduled during the hours?
My other issue with this process is it seems quite elitist; making everyone else in the company wait for you to be free - regardless of how blocking their question is.
With these issues in mind, I set out to see if I could find a solution which would solve most (if not all) of them and also try and remove the appearance of "my time is more important than yours". We all have work to be getting on with - there is no reason why other people should wait 24 hours for something which could, potentially, be solved in 20 minutes or less.
What I settled on was Appointments (we call it "Open Door") - for scheduling these we use Google Calendar's built in appointment schedule but I can imagine you could use a service like cal.com.
With Google Appointments, you get a good amount of customisation which means you can be quite flexible with how you set the schedule up. I have 15 minute appointments with a 5 minute break between them (should people book them back-to-back). The meetings come with a Google Meet link and you can add additional questions. For example, I have the following:
- What would you like to talk about?
- What is the link to the Merge Request/ticket?
These allow me to be prepared for any upcoming open doors and, in some instances, I can address the problem before the meeting which saves having the meeting.
One of the best features is you can specify how far in advance they can be booked. On mine, I have this set to an hour meaning I know I have the next hour free, regardless of what comes up. It also means if someone is blocked, they only need to wait an hour before we can talk.
The Google Appointments also checks against my calendar, to ensure no-one can book a meeting when I'm in another meeting or Open Door.
We've had this process running for a while and it seems to be working well. Other directors and developers have set up their own Open Doors.
Is there another solution or another way this problem can be solved? I've love to hear how else it has been addressed.