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The 21st century executive

Tracking Productivity in Software Development: What's Holding Tech Execs Back?

Productivity in software development is a major concern for software businesses.

Ask any business leader or business performance analyst and they’ll say the same; productivity is essential to business success. Improving productivity isn’t just a business concern either, it affects everyone. It doesn’t matter what branch of the organization you’re in, consistent and sustainable productivity is one of the truest drivers of business value.

So, when someone says, “We don’t need to track productivity.” what they’re really saying is, “We don’t recognize how this impacts our business outcomes.”  

 The only way to get ahead of productivity and quality issues in your development investments is to measure them over time. With the right KPIs, you can see how your teams are performing and gain greater insight into when and where productivity is lagging. 

 So, what’s holding software executives back from tracking and managing their software investment productivity 

Why do some technical managers avoid tracking productivity?   

 While the value of measuring productivity may seem obvious, there are valid reasons why software development managers may be hesitant to start. After speaking to senior software management professionals including CTOs, CIOs, Directors of Software Development, and more, we’ve identified 3 common factors that tend to hold them back: 

  1. Uncertainty of returns 
  2. Concerns over additional work 
  3. Lack of experience with managing development at scale 

1. Uncertainty of returns 

Being the decision-maker for software development investments comes with heavy responsibilities. Upper management bodies like boards of directors or steering committees need explainable and guaranteed results and justification for budgeting. At the same time, development teams expect informed, experienced leadership and support. For many software executives, putting resources into measuring productivity may seem like a gamble without any immediate pay-off.  

If your teams are delivering software features consistently without any hiccups, why risk the investment of tracking productivity? For one thing, it’s important to remember that your teams may not be able to maintain the same level of work forever. As projects change or as your business scales up, estimating and allocating resources becomes harder the less you know about how your teams actually function 

What’s more, as questions arise from upper management, understanding and communicating how your teams are performing and where your budget is being spent becomes more important. With the right productivity KPIs, communicating changes in the performance of software investments becomes easier thanks to greater transparency and explainability.   

For managing teams, tracking productivity and performance can help to identify the top performers as well as team members in need of support. In internal teams this allows you to manage with greater precision and control, while for external teams or software suppliers, it provides ongoing insights into their performance over time. These insights can prove to be useful bargaining chips when negotiating terms of service.   

When done right, investing in understanding productivity and performance is always worth it. 

2. Concerns over additional work 

Another common factor that can hold leadership back, is the fear of additional work. Sometimes, the temptation to stay in the dark stems from anxiety about the extra work that can arise after bringing productivity and workflow issues to light. It’s certainly a valid concern. The effort needed to identify and remediate issues that hamper smooth development pipelines can slow down production in the short term. Unsurprisingly, some business leaders in software opt to prioritize immediate gains, rather than setting down the groundwork for healthy and sustainable development practices early on.  

While productivity may dip as you allocate resources to fixing the problems slowing you down, in the long run, it usually leads to higher throughput and quality of work produced. Teams that neglect productivity and software quality tend to run into a wall sooner rather than later, losing any momentum or advantage they’ve gained. The sooner you can start tracking productivity and efficiency in your development, the less difficult fixing it becomes. That translates to faster acceleration in your software development operations Cyclomatic complexity 𝑉(𝐺)=𝐸−𝑁+2∗𝑃 Where V(G) = Maximum number of linearly independent paths E = Total number of edges N = Total number of nodes P = Total number of predicate nodes (conditional nodes-1

Having the right metrics and deep insights at the code level provides a clearer view of your software development process and where key problems are rooted. With these in hand, you’ll be better equipped to fix operational issues and streamline your development in a way that works for your organization. Some of our clients, for example, have found improving their development efforts easier than expected after uncovering the inefficiencies that had been slowing their teams down for months.  

While it may seem daunting, staying in the dark only adds to the work you and your team will have to put in when those hidden problems inevitably become apparent. Getting ahead of these issues is the best way to ensure that your development investments are productive and sustainable over the long term 

Lack of experience managing development at scale 

It’s no surprise that scaling up is one of the hardest processes for both business and tech leaders to control. Sometimes, software decision-makers may not even realize just how critical efficient development processes are because they’re accustomed to operating at a certain scale. When organizations begin to grow, however, small problems can magnify and proliferate. This creates bottlenecks that put future development—and your business growth at risk 

A common pitfall for less experienced software managers is assuming that their development process works because “It’s been working fine so far.” This could be a huge misstep when scaling up. Adding new devs to the team without having measures in place to deal with these issues can present nasty surprises when perpetuated across larger teams. This is often realized as: 

  • declining team velocity 
  • a growing backlog 
  • increased technical debt 
  • declining quality of output 

To ensure successful scaling, experienced software development leaders know their software development operations need to be efficient, productive, and stable. Inefficiencies in the development process should be visible and accounted for when expanding development efforts. The best way to achieve this is to start monitoring your development efforts as early as possible. 

Knowledge is an investment, not a cost 

While devoting resources to tracking productivity may seem like a gamble, remember that you’re investing in the knowledge that will benefit your development efforts for years to come. Looking at it as part of the development budget, it’s an investment that will ultimately show in the resources you save on remediation and improving productivity. The best part? It’s not as hard (or as expensive) as it seems 

There are dozens of tools and solutions on the market to help track software intelligence KPIs. Some can offer higher-level overviews of your development performance, perfect for a quick look at how your developments are performing. There are also tools, like Foreworth, that can provide deep insights into your software investments at the code level to help pinpoint areas for remediation and repair. Want to get started but don’t know where to start? Check out our article on two of the most popular productivity KPIs in use today here. 

What do you think? Leave us your comments here!