Increase Engineering Productivity by 50% Through Focus and Flow


Creating an environment where developers can maintain focus and achieve flow can lead to a 50% increase in productivity, as research suggests. But how do we create such an environment?

While shifting meetings and having meeting-free days are common suggestions, they are too obvious to be helpful. This article will delve into some surprising and actionable ideas to enhance focus and flow in your software organization.

Why Focus and Flow Matter

Great developer productivity stems from the ability to enter and maintain a flow state, which requires both focus (working without distractions) and flow (completing work without impediments).

In an environment where focus is absent, distractions are plenty. Teams struggle to get anything done, and the simplest tasks span weeks or months. Often, we see engineers busy with meetings or switching tasks every hour. The reason for this is usually that they can’t work on one task from beginning to end due to dependencies on other people or teams. Consequently, value delivery takes significantly longer than it needs to. Furthermore, people are frequently stressed as they are constantly busy without finishing meaningful work.

8 Practical Steps to Improve Focus and Flow

1. Collaborate more

Team focus and team flow are the real deal.

  • Team/Pair Focus: Have teams or pairs focus on one task at a time. This ensures that someone is always available to help and hold the context if someone gets distracted. When team members work together on the same task, they can immediately address any issues that arise, reducing the need for context switching.
  • Minimize Distractions: Collaboration reduces the number of people who can potentially distract team members. When everyone is working together, there are fewer interruptions from outside the team, allowing for a more focused work environment.
  • Avoid Async Reviews: These can cause context switches. Instead, opt for real-time collaboration to keep everyone in the same context. Team/pair programming, for example, can help catch issues early and maintain a continuous flow of work.

2. Document wisely

Good documentation helps the author and the reader.

  • Reduce Friction: Good documentation helps find answers quickly, reducing the need to ask others and causing fewer distractions. Comprehensive documentation serves as a reliable reference, minimizing the need for frequent interruptions to seek clarifications.
  • Increase Understanding: Creating documentation helps team members think things through and understand the task better. The process of documenting forces a more profound understanding of the subject, which can lead to better decision-making.
  • Enable Async Communication: Good documentation allows for asynchronous communication, reducing interruptions. This means that team members can access the information they require without having to wait for someone to be available to answer their questions.

3. Form Cross-Functional Value-Stream-Aligned Teams

Create self-organizing, self-sustaining and autonomous teams.

  • Increase Expertise: Having a diverse set of skills within the team reduces the need to collaborate with people outside the team. The increased internal expertise allows the team to handle a wider range of tasks independently.
  • Shared Goal: Ensure the team has a shared mission or purpose to work towards. This aligns everyone’s efforts and reduces conflicts. A clear team charter or mission statement can provide this focus.
  • True Team Definition: A team should work together towards the same goal, not just be a group of individuals reporting to the same manager. This means fostering a sense of collective responsibility and collaboration.
  • Eliminate Handovers: Align teams, so there are no handovers between understanding customer needs and shipping product increments. This reduces the need for coordination and speeds up value delivery and feedback. A seamless workflow from ideation to deployment can significantly enhance productivity.
  • Immediate Feedback: Knowing where ideas come from helps in getting quick feedback, reducing delays and distractions. Direct communication with stakeholders can provide this immediate feedback.
  • Customer Proximity: Bring teams closer to customers through sessions with sales reps and customers. This helps understand needs better and enhances the quality of feedback. Regular interactions with customers provide valuable insights and ensure that the team is aligned with customer needs.

4. Shift Feedback Left

Fast feedback loops prevent context switching.

  • Early Feedback: The earlier the team receives feedback (i.e., from the CI/CD pipeline or local builds), the quicker they can act on it, reducing distractions, context switches and making feedback feel more pleasant. Early feedback helps in identifying and resolving issues before they escalate.
  • Relationship Building: If immediate feedback isn’t possible and the team needs to wait for a slow job to finish for feedback, don’t context switch to another task. — Use the waiting time for personal relationship building. This can also spark ideas on how to reduce wait times. Building strong relationships within the team can improve collaboration and feeling of belonging.

5. Communicate Clear and Guiding Mission and Vision

Alignment on the goal enables autonomy.

  • Unified Direction: A clear mission and vision ensure everyone understands why the company and team exist, providing a common goal to guide decisions and actions. This shared understanding can align efforts and reduce conflicts.
  • Reduce Conflicts: A shared North Star reduces conflicts due to contradictory goals and increases autonomy, improving decision quality. When everyone is working towards the same goal, it’s easier to resolve disagreements and make decisions that benefit the team as a whole.

6. Establish Reasonable WIP Limits

Reasonable = Much lower than you think!

  • Encourage Collaboration: Set work-in-progress (WIP) limits lower than the number of team members to encourage collaboration and create space for focused work. Limiting WIP ensures that team members are not overwhelmed and can concentrate on completing tasks.
  • Reduce Busyness: Lower WIP limits, reduce busyness and increase focus. This helps in maintaining a steady workflow and prevents the team from getting bogged down with too many tasks at once.
  • Queue Management: Make visible where value is stuck in the value stream and work to remove those queues. This can significantly reduce development times. Identifying and addressing bottlenecks can streamline the workflow and enhance productivity.

7. Treat Meetings as Signals

Every meeting is a potential systemic issue screaming for help.

  • Identify Inefficiencies: Meetings often indicate structural or procedural inefficiencies. Use them as signals to improve the system for better focus and flow. If meetings are frequent and lengthy, it may be a sign that there are underlying issues that need to be addressed.
  • Collaborate, Don’t Inform: Use meetings for collaboration, not just information sharing. Allow attendees to decide the agenda and use of time. This ensures that meetings are productive and relevant to all participants.
  • Feedback on Meetings: Collect candid feedback on the value of meetings and how they can be improved at the end. Regularly assessing the effectiveness of meetings can help in making them more efficient and valuable.

8. Batching Meetings

Yes, finally, that one obvious suggestion. 😉

  • Minimize Interruptions: Batch meetings into one afternoon or day with breaks in between. This allows the rest of the time to be dedicated to focused, productive work. Concentrating meetings into a specific time slot can help in maintaining flow during the rest of the day. Remember that every interruption robs focus for at least 23 additional minutes.
  • Connect and Align: Use the batched meeting time to connect and align with team members. This isn’t the time to be productive in terms of task completion but can support overall productivity by ensuring everyone is on the same page.


Focus and flow are essential requirements for high-performing teams.

I have successfully implemented these approaches with teams from companies big and small across various domains. They work incredibly well. The key is to create an environment where distractions are minimized, and the team can work together seamlessly towards common goals. This enhances productivity and increases job satisfaction, team engagement, motivation, and product quality. What more do you need?

Want to improve focus, flow, and productivity in your company?

Drop me a message if you would like some guidance or someone who implements the most impactful changes with you and your teams.


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