You’ll scarcely find a more controversial and hotly contested topic than metrics of software development productivity. Some think the notion of measuring productivity at all is an insult while others think it can be boiled down to just the lines of code produced.
Naturally, both these extremes are wrong. And yet the “right” answer remains elusive.
Enter McKinsey. The Big Four consultancy made a fair few enemies when it said yes, you can measure developer productivity. Its framework below amalgamates two of the most popular existing frameworks, DORA and SPACE, with additional opportunity-focused metrics.
Many are not enthused. The critics include Dave Farley, formerly head of software development for low latency FX and crypto exchange LMAX Ltd. He says he’s a fan of one of the metrics used, DORA, which has a focus on outcomes over the process. However, he likens the difference between DORA and other metrics to “the difference between astronomy and astrology.”
Farley refutes the preoccupation with individual development metrics and says, “being smart in how we structure and organize our work is much more important than the level of individual genius or otherwise in the team.” He references a now ancient book of essays on software engineering, The Mythical Man Month, and its idea that “nine women can’t make a baby in one month.”
Kent Beck, ex-fellow at payroll infrastructure fintech Gusto, and Gergely Orosz, formerly an engineering manager for Uber’s payments platform and previously developer on JPMorgan’s equity derivatives desk, also disagree with the McKinsey methodology. Their conclusions are that the report is “absurdly naive,” and would “do far more harm than good” to companies that implement it.
They suggest alternatives. – Focus on individual engineers, hoping to monitor and boost their own productivity. They set developers a challenge to “only have one red test at a time when using test driven development,” and “set a goal to merge a pull request every day.”
At a business level, they suggest a performance metric of “at least one customer-facing thing per team, per week,” while rewarding “business impact.” Though the former sounds easy, they say it “in practice is very hard to achieve.” The latter is even more ambiguous and abstract than productivity itself, but they say the goal is that it “incentivizes software engineers to understand the business.”
Are these developers making a fuss over nothing? Or is the McKinsey report a foreboding sign of what’s to come in the world of engineering? Let us know in the comments.
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