The Importance of Slack


Sometimes in a startup environment, the pressure to constantly deliver new features to support existing customers and potential leads can fill your entire working day and then some. However, when the team is fully utilized and committed to feature development, the lack of time can introduce some significant challenges that can only be addressed by slowing down and introducing some slack.

It is always a constant battle to ensure that there is slack time in the team.  There are times where it is necessary to reduce or eliminate it to accomplish short-term goals, but it is important to remember that longer-term objectives and structure are likely to suffer.

Slack Allows You To Respond to Unexpected Events

In a small team such as ours, a significant customer support issue can disrupt a couple of team members for a few days.  Depending on the skills involved and the stories in play, this can have cascading effects on the rest of the team and severely hamper an iteration.  Having a slack developer allows us to intercept this issue and possibly minimize or eliminate the impact on everyone else.

Slack Allows You to Reorganize to Remove Blockages

When blockages occur on in-progress stories, a slack member of the engineering team can quickly jump in to remove the impediment.  It is impossible to know everything when you start a story, so it is prudent to have the ability to have another person to quickly jump in and help, be it with development, testing, or infrastructure needs.

Slack Provides Breathing Space

Cranking through features and stories to solve customer problems can be rewarding, but a sustained effort for a long period of time can also be tiring.  Part of maintaining a sustainable pace is allowing team members timeto periodically slow down, recharge the batteries, and return with renewed energy.  A few hours here and there may be all that is needed.

Slack Provides Time For Planning

To properly decide what features to add to the product, engineering estimates of complexity and risk must be taken into consideration. These take time away from core development to give them proper consideration.  Additionally, backlog grooming is essential to maintaining flow and it needs input both from product owners and engineers.

Slack Gives You the Chance to Improve the System

When you are immersed in a system, you are only able to see the problems and solutions that are in your immediate field of vision, assuming you have time to look for them at all.  Slack provides time to step back and look at larger and larger parts of the system to understand where waste is occurring.  A great benefit of this is that the discovery and correction of a waste situation often frees up time and money that can be invested back into product development or into the next system improvement.

Slack Provides Room For Experimentation

Sometimes you need to have the ability to experiment on something and fail in order to discover new ideas, techniques, skills, or features. Slack during iterations can provide this opportunity.  FedEx Days or similar events (organized slack!) are also great proving grounds from which amazing things can emerge.