How to Measure and Improve Software Development Efficiency

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Measuring efficiency in software development — and therefore developer productivity — is notoriously difficult. Some people even claim it's not possible.

While it may not be directly possible to measure the full value of the software that your development team creates (and the value of the time that goes into creating that software), you can measure wasted effort, and reduce it to optimize software development productivity.

Here’s what you need to know to measure developer productivity and improve it across your team.

What Is Efficiency in Software Development?

In software development, your application, website, code, and more are likely being continually updated. Bugs need to be resolved, updates need to be made, and new features that appeal to users need to be added to continue improving their experiences.

Software evolution is inevitable and necessary.

But how do you know if the hours your team puts into developing your site or app are productive? How do you know your team is being the most efficient they can be?

Tracking the efficiency of software development gives you insight into wasted hours, discarded code that wasn’t used, and where you can refocus and improve team processes to maximize efforts.

Why Is It Important?

Tracking development efficiency shows you the full value of the software your team creates:

  • Gives insight into specific areas where you may have problems
  • Shows where team members may be wasting time or if efforts can better be spent on other areas
  • Reveals if you need to re-structure processes or reassign certain projects to more senior team members
  • Helps your team write the most effective code to save valuable time and money

Lost productivity means wasted time and money that could otherwise be spent on other, more productive tasks. It’s crucial to measure developer productivity to maximize employee efforts and time put into projects.

How to Measure Software Development Efficiency

There are a few software developer productivity metrics that can help you keep your team on target and maximize efforts.

1. Track How Much Code Is Written but Never Goes Into Production

One important developer productivity metric to track is how much code gets written but never goes into production. Wasted code can be one of the biggest indicators that your team is not working as efficiently as they could be.

Keep track of how much code gets written and discarded altogether This can reveal underlying problems with unclear or frequently changing guidance from product or business managers, or too much time spent on experimental tasks.

2. Track Code Churn

Code churn isn’t inherently good or bad — but too much, having it too soon after it goes into production, or not having enough can all be red flags regarding developer productivity.

Keep track of:

  • If certain developers frequently have code that’s rewritten by other (especially more senior) developers: This can indicate if certain projects are too difficult for newer developers and may be better assigned to those in more senior roles.
  • How soon code churns after going into production: If code churn frequently occurs within a week of going into production, it can indicate inadequate code review processes, lack of automated testing, or problematic technical debt.
  • If code churn never occurs: It can also be a red flag if you never have code churn. This can indicate that your team is not incorporating user feedback to add or fix features. It can also signal your team isn’t keeping software up-to-date with the latest dependency versions and best practices, which may make future development very inefficient.

Track when, where, and how frequently code churn takes place to get a better view of your team’s code quality.

3. Evaluate Estimated vs. Actual Time To Complete Tasks

Sprint velocity (the average story points completed during each sprint) can be a top indicator of whether your teams are consistently hitting goals.

Keep track of:

  • One or more qualitative goals describing what the team intends to accomplish in each sprint, and the team’s track record of meeting their sprint goals
  • The number of story points (or whatever other metric your team uses to estimate the size of tasks) planned versus completed each sprint (i.e., the sprint velocity)

It is important to look at the consistency of both the size of the team’s commitments, and the accuracy of what they completed compared to what they originally promised. If a team can reliably deliver a similar amount of work each sprint, then this indicates that your team is likely working effectively.

However, if you’re taking longer than the time you estimated, it can indicate:

  • Tasks are not well-defined or requirements change during development, leading to “scope creep.”
  • Tasks may have their scope defined properly, but just take longer than the original estimate. This can indicate that tasks are not adequately planned, team members are being overly optimistic, or that there are problems with technical debt that cause tasks to blow up unpredictably.
  • Specific tasks may be dependent on others and need to be prioritized differently to make sprints more effective.

How To Improve Software Development Efficiency

1. Pinpoint Why Written Code Doesn’t Go Into Production

Code that’s written may not always make it into production. However, it’s important to know if there are recurrent issues regarding why code doesn’t make it into production.

  • Are there clear expectations about how much time developers should be spending on experimental or proof-of-concept code that may not make it into production?
  • How often do product or business managers cancel projects after they have started?

Evaluate the underlying reason why code isn’t being put into production to determine whether it represents a problem, and, if so, what lower-cost vetting can be done at an earlier stage to prevent developers from wasting time on something that never ships.

2. Reduce Code Churn Through Better Self-Editing and Review Processes

While a modest level of code churn is imperative to helping maintain software, add new features, and improve user experience, having too much or having it too soon can be a red flag and lead to wasted hours.

Self-Editing

Help individual team members reduce code churn by showing them how to better self-edit. When team members self-edit and fix their own code before review (and before production), it saves more senior developers from having to go back and rewrite the code to shorten or improve it.

An important part of this is setting clear expectations that developers should submit code for review only when they believe it is ready for launch, rather than cutting corners with testing and leaning on reviewers to detect problems.

More Robust Reviews

One reason your teams may have a high level of code churn is that review processes are not robust enough. Give better guidance on expectations so that team members are rewarded for reviewing code thoroughly, even if it takes away from other tasks.

Also, make sure that reviewers assess automated test coverage and manual test procedures as part of the review, which can help reduce the chances of problems slipping through the cracks.

3. Use the Right Tools to Track Software Development Production Processes

Tools like minware are your best assets for tracking and improving software development efficiency.

Rather than basing software developer productivity on the number of lines of code written — which is a poor and potentially counterproductive productivity indicator — minware gives your team a complete overview of the software development life cycle.

With minware, you can track things like:

  • Code longevity: See how code ages over time, revealing its true quality.
  • How much code is written but never makes it into production: Learn how much code is completely wasted and never used.
  • How much code churns within a short period of time: Get an overview of how much code is being rewritten and how soon after it goes into production.
  • Time to merge: Learn how long it takes code to go into production.

minware’s analytics reveal anti-patterns, empowering teams with valuable data to make software development as efficient as possible.

The Bottom Line

While some may insist that measuring software development efficiency is not possible, that’s not the case. Rather than trying to directly measure the value of software your team creates, instead, focus on the wasted effort.

Keep track of key developer productivity metrics like code churn, the amount of code written that doesn’t go into production, and the estimated vs. actual time it takes to complete tasks. Take advantage of tools like minware that show you where those wasted efforts lie — in the time it takes code to go into production, code churn, time to merge, and more.

When you get a complete overview of the lifecycle of your code across your software development team, you can find places to improve processes and help your team work more effectively.

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