Constant demands for increased productivity from software developers are being met with increasing levels of burnout caused by pandemic stress, changing working conditions, and multiple tools that require a change of context.
All of these factors can prevent developers from achieving optimal performance levels. Some barriers to productivity are easy to identify; others are much less visible but just as impactful. Recognizing the existence of these stumbling blocks is only the first step towards finding a solution.
The disadvantages of remote work
According to Derrick Morton, CEO of FlowPlay, the biggest problem you have with developers is not being clear about the task or the goal. “Before, this was often solved by quieter conversations – office life solved many communication problems,” he said. “In these times, communication needs to be very clear – you can’t assume people have heard of the Vine or read the document that anything should have been changed.”
Even harder: trying to think as a team when people are working remotely, often on asynchronous schedules. “It’s when you have conversations with people about how the end product will actually take shape, and that’s hard with Zoom because Zoom, for whatever reason, is by its very nature very transactional,” said Morton said. “It’s just weird to brainstorm on Zoom.”
In addition to making things more inefficient, remote work could make it even harder to maintain a company’s growth culture. “We’re super worried about that right now,” Morton added. “It’s one of the things we’re dealing with now and trying to figure out. It’s very difficult.”
Patrick Dunn, director of engineering at Hired, thinks that in remote environments, life around the house can become a barrier to productivity unless developers take proactive steps. “Context switching and its mental impact, for personal or professional reasons, can be a productivity killer if it happens too often,” he said. “Encouraging the use of tools like Pomodoro timers and other focus-related apps can help developers reduce context switching.”
For teams around the world, it’s also important to estimate the time it takes from completing coding to going live. Accurate planning of code and product review cycles can allow developers to plan their time more efficiently.
“Are the tools easy to use and understand, especially if something goes wrong? How easily can you undo a mistake? Dunn said. “Developers can be slow to act if the cost of action in this post-development phase is high, so consider how you can reduce this friction while being aware of your organization’s needs.”
It’s not all about the exit
Focusing too much on production and straining your developers can turn into a hindrance to productivity. “It’s incredibly demoralizing if you’ve ever told your developers they’ve worked very hard, but guess what we’re going to do next quarter: work harder!” Dunn said. “Be prepared to allow an ebb and flow of productivity. Sometimes a period of slow production is needed to recharge your creativity and reduce burnout, which means that in the long run you will be even more productive.
Peter Pezaris, vice president of developer strategy and tools at New Relic, said recognizing intangibles is key when it comes to measuring developer productivity. In addition to standard metrics such as commit history and bug release rates, a team leader or manager should also recognize that there are things like morale that are much harder to measure, again, especially in a remote context.
“We all have to adapt to a new way of working where more and more of our hours are scheduled on Zoom calls,” he said. “If you don’t regularly talk to your development team and individual contributors about how they’re coping, how they’re coping with the pandemic, then I think that creates a dark place where negative sentiment can grow. .”
Pezaris said he also thinks it’s important for managers to change their perspective on how they assess productivity. “We have to be careful not to make assumptions about people’s behavioral changes, because we all go through challenges that we wouldn’t have encountered otherwise,” he said. “It comes down to making sure you allocate time to talk openly about these things, and we should all be open and flexible about personal situations.”
With remote work becoming more common amid the ongoing pandemic, many leaders are focusing on how employees are working longer hours due to the lack of separation between personal and work life. Organizations need to take stock of the time their developers spend on their day-to-day work, as well as their overall availability, especially if they’re working as a team across multiple time zones.
“Long hours, especially long hidden hours, will erode their productivity, and that’s a problem you can identify before any tangible impacts are felt,” Dunn said. Previously reliable developers may begin to unexpectedly miss deadlines or misjudge development estimates.
“Developers can slip up from time to time, but the beginning of a problem pattern is an indicator that you need to reach out and fix what’s going on,” he added. But having a one-on-one conversation can often help: “Come to them with an open mind and open ears. Make it clear that you are here to make things better and that you want to solve current problems and remove obstacles. Let them know they can air their complaints without repercussions.
Use your data
Finally, collect data from your development team and work with a smaller focus group to bring it all together into actionable tasks. Developing a comfortable roadmap based on these tasks can help your developers potentially eliminate many of the obstacles and inefficiencies that are holding them back. Have the developers figure out what might work best for the whole team.
“It may seem counter-intuitive as it takes a developer or two away from their normal work, however, in the long run it will have a positive impact on your entire team,” Dunn said. “As your developers see their own productivity increase and see the fruits of their labor, they will find satisfaction and happiness that can lead them to be even more productive.”