Selling Code

Why should this Code be Merged?

A pull request (PR) is like a product looking for a buyer. The buyer, or pull request reviewer in this analogy, is trying to make an informed decision before they purchase (approve) the product. Thus as a PR creator, you are a salesperson and understanding the steps of the sales process will help you sell your product and allow buyers to make an educated decision on a product with features they may not be familiar with.

The Sales Process

Prospecting

Identifying customers and their need is often a prerequisite for a code change. The ticket or user story often already define the need, so the customer comes to you. So far, this sales process is easy!

Preparation

Before writing code, it is important to research the codebase, evaluate existing solutions on the market, i.e. code that already does what you need. Understand the context of your code changes and the need behind them, similar to understanding a product or market before you go on a sales call.

Approach

As the solution is implemented, be constantly thinking about the needs of the buyer, or the pull request reviewer in this case. Code comments should be left with intentionality, always with the perspective of how can I best help the reviewer of this PR understand that my solution is correct and make them buy that my changes are needed. Remember that you may also be selling this same code to yourself months later when you are trying to figure out why it is there and how it works.

Presentation

Get your slide deck ready! The code changes are complete and it’s time to sell everyone on the changes you made. Others are now relying upon you to give them the information and context they need to make an informed purchase. Use the preparation, work, and knowledge from the previous steps to document the benefits of your code and why someone should buy it.

Some concrete examples of this are:

  • Determine whether this should really be multiple smaller PRs.
  • Perform an initial self-evaluation of your PR and try to find edge cases and flaws.
  • Find the obvious mistakes/major oversights or development code left behind.
  • Explain how this PR changes this because of that.
  • Leave comments on your own PR explaining why one approach was chosen over another.
  • Evaluate if those PR comments really should be code comments. More often than not, the answer is yes.
  • Remember that changes without context are very difficult to review.
  • Include screenshots of your code in action.
  • Provide links where reviewers can demo your code and see it in action.
This PR comment should be moved to the code.

This PR comment should be moved to the code.

Handling objections

Often there will still be questions on the features your product provides or how it responds for a given use case. Sometimes you might be trying to sell the wrong product all together. Either way, treat questions and feedback as opportunities to improve your product or the presentation process to make future sales go more smoothly.

The buyer has an important role to play in the process too. The buyer’s feedback will help future sales processes go more quickly and improve the quality of future products. For those who often find themselves reviewing pull requests, we have a lot of thoughts on improving this practice as well.

Closing

With feedback in hand, it’s now time to close the sale. Don’t rush through this process though, be sure to ask questions and understand why changes were requested, always with an eye on making future sales easier. Then address any concerns, refactor or fix your product, explain the changes, and make a final push to get the PR approved and merged, in other words: sold!

Follow-up

Hit the like button on some of the best feedback and send some thank you emojis on Slack. Note the areas of expertise of each reviewer so you can ask yourself what they would like to see in a future product and prepare to do it all over again, as the next ticket is surely not far behind!

Benefits

This “sales” approach is not about process for the sake of process, nor is it intended to be a rigid workflow. The value of selling your code is in the benefits it brings to the pull request workflow within your development process. Some of these benefits are:

  • Better initial code through self reflection and review.
  • Decreased time spent by others reviewing pull requests.
  • Fewer bugs and regressions that slip through approval process as reviewers are better informed.
  • Increased code quality as reviewers are able to focus on higher level code architecture due to increased understanding.

What other benefits do you see to this process? Do you have a favorite PR selling trick we missed? Most importantly, did we sell you on the process?

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