PR Authors Have a lot of Control on PR Idle Time

Getting a pull request reviewed quickly is often under the author’s control. This is great news because, according to DevEx, you should reduce feedback loops to increase developer productivity. There are other feedback loops that a developer experiences, but pull requests happen all of the time. You can have a big impact on productivity if they happen faster, and a big reason they don’t is because of the commits in the PR.

At Trello, during a hackathon, someone did an analysis on all of the PRs on all of the teams to see if they could get some insights. At the time, we probably had about 10 teams of about 7-10 developers each.

One thing they looked at was median time to approve a PR based on team, and there were two teams that were far outliers (with smaller waits for a PR to be approved). They went further to look at the PRs themselves and noticed that they generally had fewer commits and the commits themselves were smaller. The number of pull requests per developer-week was much higher than other teams.

I was on one of those teams, and the other one was very closely aligned with us (meaning we had a lot of shared processes and rituals). When we very small, 5 total developers, we were basically one team with a shared lead. The style of PR on these teams was very intentional. When I was onboarded, I was given very specific instructions on how to make a PR.

The essence of what we did was to completely rewrite the commits before making a pull-request to “tell a story”. I wrote about the details in Construct PRs to Make Reviewing Easy.

As a reviewer, this made it very easy to do approvals, which we could fit it in at almost any time. With all of us doing this, many PRs were approved within an hour and most in a few hours. A really good time to do some reviewing was right after submitting a PR, which made the throughput reach a steady-state. The PR list was rarely very long.

I worked in this style for the 6+ years I was on this team and know that it contributed to a high level of personal work satisfaction. Even though I had to wait for others to approve my work, I felt that my own productivity was largely under my control.

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