To stay effective, software engineering teams should constantly search for ways to improve how they build, test, and deploy software. That continuous improvement process helps teams ensure better collaboration, more efficient workflows, and faster time to market.
Focusing on how a team develops software, rather than on just the software itself, can offer needed insights to an organization’s ability to deliver in a manner that can scale in order to meet ever changing business needs.
This article will explain the importance of continuous improvement practices to software engineering teams. It will also describe how your team can implement those practices.
What is continuous improvement?
Continuous improvement practices identify problems or blockers in a team’s workflow, focus on actions the team can take to prevent those problems, then repeat that problem identification and action implementation process moving forward. For example, if code is taking too long to get deployed, tracking metrics around what happens to code after a commit occurs can shed some light on the issue. Maybe code reviews are taking a long time and need to be improved so that code can more quickly move through the pipeline. If that’s the case, you can measure that particular metric to achieve improvement in your development cycle overall as code review efficiency is improved.
In the context of this article, continuous improvement doesn’t refer to the product or service that your company provides. The goal here is to improve the development process so that your team can deliver high-quality software faster and more efficiently.
Starting from when the code is committed, you should track specific metrics that measure the software development process, as opposed to the more traditionally tracked code analysis or performance metrics. Some of those metrics include review time to first activity (how long after code is committed before the code is reviewed) or review time to approval (how long a particular pull request takes to get reviewed and approved after commit). The insights you gain can help you make changes to improve your workflow.
How do you begin a continuous improvement process?
To implement continuous improvement in software engineering, you need to take a close look at your team’s workflow and determine which metrics to monitor. If your software development process is based on assumptions about how well it’s working, you won’t be able to make improvements. Instead, by starting with objective metrics around how the software development process is functioning, you can compare those metrics over time and make more informed decisions.
Such metrics can be difficult to track. Take, for example, Code Review Duration. This is an important piece of the software development lifecycle (SDLC) because if code is sitting unreviewed it can slow down your workflow, even potentially leading to merge conflicts when new code comes in. However, that metric isn’t usually tracked or even easy to track with most tools.
A solution to this problem is to use a tool like Treno, which uses multiple metrics to analyze your team’s review times and can determine the causes for delays.
Once you have objective performance data, you can more easily identify inefficiencies in your team’s processes and remove them as needed. You can then use those metrics to measure the impact of those changes.
Internal benefits of a continuous improvement process
Implementing continuous improvement processes can help your team in multiple ways:
The goals you set for your team must be both achievable and measurable. Instead of setting larger goals and struggling to meet them throughout the quarter or year, you can use a continuous improvement plan to regularly set and meet more incremental goals. As opposed to setting a goal for the entire quarter, you might check back in on the progress of your plan on a weekly basis and see how the metrics you are tracking have changed. The metrics you use will enable you to measure your progress as well as identify other improvements you can make to reach those goals.
If your team members don’t understand where the workflow is slowing down or what their role can be in meeting challenges, they might feel more stressed and less motivated. When everyone understands the goals that are set and what they can do to help achieve those goals, they’ll feel more confident about their role and will be more productive.
In addition to improving the software development process, measuring key metrics gives you an early warning if problems begin to develop. If a bug is discovered or a feature upgrade is causing compatibility issues, you’ll detect it well before the production stage due to a drift in the metrics. For example, if developers are having difficulty with a new feature running on their local environments and require extra time to debug and review new code, you’ll see the time between code commit and code deployment increasing, which will tell you that something needs to be investigated.
One of the more difficult aspects of improving the problem-solving process is knowing what metrics to track and having that data available when you need it. A tool like Treno simplifies that work. Treno helps you observe, analyze, and improve software delivery by giving you the monitoring, metrics, and visualizations you need to continue to improve. By having that data at your fingertips, you can identify problems in your processes earlier and start to fix them faster.
External benefits of a continuous improvement process
Continuous improvement practices can also help you better position your organization in the market, bringing benefits to you and greater value to your customers. The following are some examples:
One of the best ways to release high-quality software is to ensure that your workflow is solid, introducing as few bugs as possible and quickly shipping new features and updates. Continuously improving your software development processes enables you to deliver more value to your end users, which helps build customer loyalty and retention.
Often, the way to stand out in the market is to release new products, features, and bug fixes faster than your competitors. If you constantly look for ways to improve how your team builds and ships software, your workflow will speed up. To do so you should focus on the metrics that lead to a faster release cycle. For example, minimizing the time between when code is committed and when it’s reviewed, as well as the length of time it takes for code to be reviewed, will help you ship software quicker and will lead to faster releases overall.
As Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, has said, every company is now a software company. Business growth can therefore be driven by a company’s ability to use software to respond to customer feedback, changing market conditions, or changing business goals. You can use the continuous improvement process to address all of those factors. By focusing over time on the software development metrics you’ve defined as important and working to improve the processes they measure, you can achieve business success by enabling your teams to release more high-quality software, faster.
Traditionally, the software development process has been led by gut feeling and team consensus. However, that can lead to subjective judgments which don’t create real improvements. By shifting to data-driven decision making and implementing continuous improvements to software development processes, your team can become more efficient and successful over time. That will drive better results for your developers, organization as a whole, and customers, ensuring that your team is making the best possible progress toward achieving your goals.