5 Software Development KPIs for a Savvy Engineering Leader

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For engineering leaders, keeping software development teams productive is akin to a process that persistently runs in the background. Making sure every developer knows what they’re supposed to work on and that they accomplish their tasks is no easy feat. That said, you can keep your developers productive and keep an eye on their progress by monitoring a handful of software development key performance indicators (KPIs).

This post shares five KPIs that a well-meaning engineering leader must monitor and optimize to keep software development teams working at their best. The tone and intention of our curation should help software developers attain peak performance, not attack them with performance statistics.

Before diving into a listicle, let’s go through why monitoring these KPIs will improve team morale—let alone make your software development efforts more pronounced.

software development kpi pull quote

Why You Should Measure Software Development KPIs

Since we’ve established the potential difficulty in monitoring software developers on a microscopic level, KPIs are a good way to focus on important metrics. Every action taken when developing software can be recorded or measured, with some report as a deliverable. However, if we did this for every task, that would create more noise than meaningful reports. Also, it’d take longer to read and make meaningful deductions from every such report.

KPIs are metrics that, when analyzed, help leaders make better decisions. Often, said decisions help improve the various measurements themselves. When done to perfection, watching certain performance areas should lead to grooming better processes in the long run.

You’ll know that a metric falls into your company’s list of KPIs when it possesses the following attributes:

  1. It’s measurable. You can deduce and associate a numerical value from recording the amount/intensity of the metric.
  2. It’s clear. Every software development team member understands what you’re measuring in the same context.
  3. It has an undeniable impact. Your team should agree that a metric significantly determines project success to classify it as a KPI.

With these attributes outlined, let’s dive straight into the five metrics, why they matter, and how you can measure them.

1. Cumulative Flow

More than anything, your developers need to know that their individual efforts amount to the overall company success. The cumulative flow KPI confirms the building up of momentum as work progresses.

Cumulative flow diagram
Cumulative flow diagram

How to Measure Cumulative Flow

Cumulative flow shows itself on a graph of tasks versus time. You’ll have to keep track of the number of tasks and their life cycle over time to plot such a chart. Over time, the chart stacks up with three to four (depending on task variables measured) lines, with color-coded areas beneath them for easy interpretation.

The resulting plot should help onlookers deduce how much work is currently in the ecosystem, along with their states. Using the chart above, we can see that the first (top) line depicts active tasks, while the bottom line shows those completed cumulatively. The middle line shows tasks that the team is currently working on.

2. Cycle Time

Cycle time is a software development KPI that analyzes the time to complete projects. If your project comprises several tasks, consider the average cycle time as an indicator of the overall performance of the team working on the tasks.

How to Measure Cycle Time

This is perhaps the simplest KPI to measure. You can deduce cycle time for any task by monitoring the timestamps when they begin and end. Subtracting the start time from the end time leaves you with a measure of how long the task took. Timestamps are easy to monitor regardless of your project management tool.

Over time, your tasks’ cycle time helps you allocate an ample time frame for tasks of the same nature.

3. Lead Time

Lead time is a KPI closely related to cycle time. While cycle time measures the time from when a task actually starts, lead time includes the time it takes from the task being created, all the way to its completion.

Lead time and cycle time
Lead time and cycle time

How to Measure Lead Time

Again, since this is a time-based KPI, measuring lead time is about knowing when the tasks first appeared in a project management system. This time includes how long it took for the right actor to begin work on a task or project.

As you monitor activities from a lead time KPI perspective, it should become easier to reduce task idle time. At the very least, minding the gap should assist you in deciding if you need more developers for your growing workload.

4. Defect Escape Rate

It’s easy to lose track of bugs while measuring time-based KPIs. The defect escape rate is a KPI that counts how many bugs make it past testing into production. Being a rate, you’d have to specify a date range as part of the report. Depending on the scale of your projects, you could measure these daily and assign effort to have lesser defects escaping into production.

How to Measure Defect Escape Rate

You can deduce your team’s defect escape rate by monitoring testing results for a specified range. The rate increases for each defect found through automated testing or even user feedback. It’s often helpful to track any defects from discovery to resolution by tagging them. This way, you can learn how much it escapes into production (if it does so) and assign resources to get it resolved easily.

Besides keeping software specifications and requirements satisfied, monitoring your team’s defect escape rate is a great way to improve your product’s quality. The fewer defects that emerge in production, the better your users’ experience.

linearb pull quote

5. Deployments Per Day

Monitoring how many deployments go live daily is an exceptional way to know just how productive your team is. Every task that adds additional features as code or even content has to be deployed for new tasks to get attention. Some teams deploy thousands of fresh changes daily.

How to Measure Deployments Per Day

While you can take a glimpse at the rate of task completion as an insight into deployments per day, you’re better off monitoring continuous deployment tool logs on this front. It gets easier when you have a well-integrated tool chain, such as one you can create with LinearB. This way, any commits that get the green light add to the daily count and become visible across the team.

Making the Most of Software Development KPIs

Knowing that your efforts are under scrutiny can be an intimidating experience, especially for junior software developers. And your duty as the engineering leader is to get your team motivated, instead of hindered, by your efforts to measure software development KPIs.

Communicate reports like how many tasks your team completes daily in the context of encouragement. This way, your measured performance indicators get better, your team gets more efficient, and your developers don’t feel attacked by performance review sessions stemming from what KPIs you choose to focus on.

Making the most of your development tools and teams often requires a seamless integration of important data points. This optimizes your development pipeline reporting through centralized dashboards and improves visibility into your software development KPIs. This makes yours a data-driven engineering experience, with KPIs at the forefront of measuring and improving team efforts. Create such an environment with a demo of LinearB’s KPI tracking tools.

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