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Posted on: Sunday, 11 April 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Just how much time do you spend in meeting rooms, conference calls and web conferences? How much time do you chit-chat with fellow developers? For how long do you have casual conversations discussing your family and your last vacation with your team? How many hours a day do you spend discussing people issues, organizational issues and project issues? Put simply, how much talking in any given day do you do?

I have been observing people in the business of building software and the conclusion that I have come to is that the software programmers and managers around the world are quietly turning into chatterboxes who chatter more and do productive work less.

"Come on Pops" - you tell me - "Talking is important. It is how communication between programmers happens".

Of course talking is important. Hugely important. But then there when you find yourself spending more and more time just talking rather than doing anything productive, there are some serious reasons to worry and do something about it.

The thing with talking, specially when you do it in a professional setup like an organization and when you are talking to your fellow programmers, inside an office meeting room, is that it seems like work. The reality most of the times however, is that It is either inspiration, collective thinking, entertainment or just plane and simple whining. Talking, in more cases than not, is not work.

I am not saying that inspiration, collective thinking or entertainment are not needed, but when you confuse them with work, you tend to do more and more of those rather than working and that is what makes talkers addicted to talking.

Jeff Atwood describes this rather articulately in his post on the topic. He explains:

In software, some developers take up residence on planet architecture, an otherworldly place where software is eternally planned and discussed but never actually constructed. Having endless discussions about software in a conference room or mailing list feels like useful work-- but is it? Until you've produced a working artifact for the rest of the world to experience, have you really done anything?

To be honest, this is not just an architecture or development thing after all. This is a huge problem even with Leadership, Quality Assurance, Entrepreneurship, Documentation, Marketing or virtually any field that you can think of. Even genuine management is much more about getting things done than it is about talking. It is about empowering people rather than just sitting in meeting rooms and discussing how things 'aught to be'.

If you find folks in your organization who spend a lot of time talking about how someone should change the culture of the organization, chances are that these individuals will not be that 'someone' who ultimately changes the culture of the organization.

Ever been through a long meeting where everyone discusses how-the-morale-of-your-team-can-be-improved for hours and comes out with no resolution? Bad Management.

Want to do something real?

Send out an email asking for a small budget for Logo-ware. If you get no response, spend some of your own money to get a really small quantity of seriously appealing Logo-ware printed and give it out. Do not spend countless hours talking about the implications of giving out logo-ware how people will react to it, how much morale increase you will get out of it or if it will even work. Do it. Try it out.

And then move on to doing something else which you believe will positively impact the morale.

Do one thing at a time and every time you hear the word call or meeting cringe.

I have watched programmers, managers, business analysts, testers and even entrepreneurs and I have come to a conclusion that might seem rather strong and harsh but it is indeed true. Those who cannot do things, talk about doing them.

Focus on 'doing' and while it might seem really tempting to call all your programmers in a meeting room and start 'discussing' a serious problem, ask yourself if you can get everyone to do something about the problem rather than just 'discussing' it.

I could have said this politely and I could have mitigated my speech, but then it probably would not have had the same impact that it would otherwise have. So here is my advice for today which I hope nudges you on the path of productivity - Try to see if you can shut The F-Up and Go get some real work done.

I wish you good luck.