Productivity Hacks for Developers: The Pinterest Toolkit.


It takes a skilled engineering manager to plan for productivity in a meaningful way. I caught up with Raghavendra Prabhu (RVP), Head of Infrastructure at Pinterest to learn about how he paves the road for productivity with his team.

What’s in your tool belt?

At Pinterest, the company is moving so rapidly and the team is growing so quickly, they haven’t standardized to any one tool. RVP’s team is spread across Asana, JIRA and HipChat, and Pinterest also allows engineers to self organize into cross-functional teams with yet more communication tools. Each new developer or PM that comes on board has a favorite tool packed in their lunch box, but the cost of migrating between tools is high. For RVP, it comes down to knowing his team and what they’re working on and why, and that’s not something he’s going to find buried in Asana tickets.

High Leverage Action

“First of all, I meet one-on-one with every member of my team every week,” Says RVP, “I used to do every other, but we move so fast, I found once a week to be the right pace for us.” Once a week with everyone–that’s a lot of time. So we chatted about that for a while and I uncovered something interesting about the Pinterest productivity model. You’ve heard of the “bias toward action” that’s imperative for fast growing companies, but Pinterest engineering takes it a step further and has built a culture on a bias toward high leverage action. RVP knows that his devs will never hit that elusive “Todo-List Zero” and he spends time each week helping his team find the highest leverage task on their list to focus on. Productivity isn’t about doing more tasks, it’s about getting further. By helping them focus on high leverage tasks, Pinterest gives their engineers a feeling of momentum and power, and being empowered breeds motivation. RVP says he’s seen devs at Pinterest work incredibly hard–and effectively–on projects when they can see how impactful the work is. Like Xun Liu, who built the entire HBase backend for Zen, their new graph storage solution, in just one month.

REST, it isn’t just for APIs

There’s another reason why RVP stresses his weekly check ins: it’s imperative to make sure no one is pushing themselves too hard. “Productivity ebbs and flows,” says RVP, “After a particularly big quarter, it’s important to take on fewer projects and breathe a bit.” Sometimes after running hot for a week, a month, a quarter you need to take it down a notch. And if you’re pushing your team to consistent “best performance” then you’re pushing them toward burnout. Prioritize rest when your team members need it–their productivity levels will change over time: trust them. Top Developer Productivity Hacks:
  1. Talk to your team
  2. Focus on high leverage tasks
  3. Allow for the ebbs and flows of productivity

Heading into a 1:1 and can’t remember what you did last week? Hakka Logs helps you keep track of your work and see what other developers are working on as well.

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