The Importance of Unblocking

I'm consistently fascinated when smart people parallelize previously serial systems. Asynchronous coding and branch-based code development, are neat, and physical examples like the Kiva Systems Warehouse are particularly cool. So much productivity can be gained when systems work in parallel, that's why I think it's so important to unblock others. Whenever I hear someone say, "I'm blocked..." I drop most of what I'm doing and divert all my energy to fixing that person's problem and helping them become productive again. If a person on my team is held up by something I did or should be doing, there are seldom few things more important to me than getting them unblocked. I once had a product manager, a young guy named Andy Pitre, who took unblocking very seriously. He reiterated to our team every day at standup that his main priority for the day was to unblock us, which included getting us out of long, administrative meetings, hassling other teams to finish or speed up their APIs, and other such nagging tasks that are necessary for operation and productivity but not directly tied to writing more code. That system was pretty awesome. Every day, we'd tell Andy whose legs he had to break, and he'd hunt down the developers or managers and extract what we needed from them. It was insanely helpful to have someone who was good at rhetoric and office politics out campaigning while us engineers focused exclusively on product. I probably wrote under 50 lines of code the other day at work, which is a pretty abismal coding day for me. However, that same day, I helped two developers get set up with proper development environments and launch their first apps for their teams. Those two devs now have everything they need to continue building out their application for the next few weeks and are far more capable of helping others in the future. I understand that not every endeavor is going to be worth the time, but if I can unblock a good developer—and good developers aren't blocked by much—, I'm certain that they'll make back my lost productivity very quickly.