How to Improve Software Engineering Efficiency

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Just today your software engineering organization promoted thousands of lines of code to production, tested dozens of branches, fixed a handful of bugs, and changed the status on more than a few technical stories.  In short, a lot of work was completed by the engineers in your software development organization.   However, despite accomplishments like these, many organizations struggle to keep up with ever the increasing demand for new application and increased innovation.

Demand continues to rise

To meet these demands, instead of relying on hiring more engineers or pushing your current team to work harder, the key to improving overall performance may lie in optimizing the efficiency of your software development processes.  The not so hidden secret held in most engineering organizations is that while a significant number of resources have been allocated to testing and DevOps tooling, hardly any have been focused on software engineering efficiency.  Software engineering efficiency is a measurement of a team’s ability to proficiently ship high-quality code that delivery business value.  Maximizing software engineering efficiency involves optimizing processes, removing bottlenecks and increasing throughput – while at the same time reducing the risk of developer burnout.  In short, it is building and deploying code in the most effective way possible.

Focus on Efficiency

We all know that software engineering is the lifeblood of any modern company, but in most organizations, little to no effort is dedicated to analyzing data and determining what works well and what doesn’t.  Many organizations measure their performance by simply measuring the amount of code that released.  Instead, maybe they should measure the potential code that could have been released and assess how efficiently it could have been developed and deployed.

Even in tech-forward organizations, software engineering efficiency and developer effectiveness remain blind spots. Within these blind spots, there are extensive process inefficiencies that go beyond the development organization and incur significant costs.  And the costs of these inefficiencies spread far beyond the development organization. 

Some organizations with tens of thousands of developers operate at less than 50% efficiency due to bloated processes and unnecessary practices. These inefficiencies lead to frustrated developers…and frustrated developers quit.  Payrolls increase due to the extra salaries needed to compensate for inefficiencies, and customer satisfaction plumets as the time between releases increases.  And all of this eventually affects the business, I had one Fortune 500 executive estimate that software development inefficiencies cost his organization tens of millions of dollars every year.  And that it got worse every quarter.  While you may not be facing consequences on that scale, software development inefficiencies are undoubtably negatively affecting your organization. 

What you can do

However, there are straightforward changes you can implement to improve software engineering efficiency and effectiveness. A technology-forward company should prioritize optimizing the development environment for their software developers, which goes beyond just providing the latest tools and libraries. It also involves eliminating bottlenecks, repetitive tasks, double work, and overly burdensome approval workflows. The desired result is an environment where developers can thrive, stress is reduced, context switching is minimized, and the likelihood of coding errors decreases.

Moreover, poor software engineering efficiency hinders product development and reduces the business value delivered by your engineering team. This ultimately affects the bottom line, as customers may turn to competitors who rapidly release new features with better quality.

Fortunately, there is a roadmap that can lead to substantial benefits. Here are a few tangible recommendations to improve your organization’s software engineering efficiency and effectiveness:


1. Measure the right things

There is an old business axiom that says “you can’t improve what you don’t measure”.  I think we would all agree with that, but just as important as measuring is measuring the right things, the right way.  You should rely on hard numbers not opinions.  But gathering data on things that don’t matter could paint the wrong picture and cause more harm than good. 

When it comes to what to measure, focus on measuring business outcomes, and value delivered to the business.  Other mission critical measurements include team output over a certain time frame, the time between when work begins and when it is launched into production, and whether your team is spending more time working on innovation, bugs or tech debt.  Additionally, gather qualitative data directly from your development team to understand their job satisfaction and what they believe will make them more effective.

It’s almost criminal that almost all software organizations have a data team focused on gathering, cleansing and analyzing business data – but engineering teams often lack the same level of analytics and metrics on their own performance.

2. Elevate Software Engineering Efficiency

In your organization, there is someone who has the responsibility of focusing on application deployment, management and maintenance.  Similarly, there should be someone focused on finding and analyzing development process efficiencies and implementing solutions.  It doesn’t need to be a large organization, but someone should regularly audit the way you build software and ensure that you are meeting internal SLAs and that your organization’s delivery metrics are on-par with peers in the industry.  Just as you review your roadmap quarterly, you should do the same with your software engineering efficiency.

3. Apply Observability Practices Pre-Deployment

Traditionally used for applications in production, observability involves using software tools and methodologies to log, collect, correlate, and analyze performance data.  It provides real-time insights, empowering teams to effectively monitor, improve, and enhance applications – ultimately leading to a superior customer experience. 

There is no reason that the same observability principles cannot be used while an application is being developed and tested.  Pre-deployment observability allow an organization to establish and maintain software development service levels.  And these SLAs provide guardrails around cost, security, output, speed and quality.  Additionally, observability assist in identifying blocked process flows and spotting areas that are ripe for improvement. 

Measure Twice Before Cutting Once

By streamlining processes, employing proper tooling, and embracing automation, you can increase software engineering efficiency and enhance your engineer’s overall job satisfaction. It’s crucial to address both cultural and technological barriers to maximize the impact of these changes. While initiating change may seem overwhelming, continuous attention, iterative improvements, and fine-tuning will lead to better software development and business outcomes. We recommended you start by gathering data from key sources in the software development lifecycle and establishing a baseline of how your team actually builds software.  Then compare ongoing software development performance against this baseline.  It will provide a guide of when to implement efforts to unlock productivity, morale, effectiveness, customer satisfaction, and overall software engineering efficiency.

As always, you can reach me directly at [email protected], I look forward to hearing from you.

And whatever you do, measure twice before cutting once!

Picture of Andre Hill
Andre Hill

Founder and CEO of Treno

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