Developer Experience: : What Drives Productivity?

Engineering leaders have long sought to improve the productivity of their developers, but knowing how to measure or even define developer productivity has remained elusive. Past approaches, such as measuring the output of developers or the time it takes them to complete tasks, have failed to account for the complex and diverse activities that developers perform. Thus, the question remains: What should leaders measure and focus on to improve developer productivity?

Today, many organizations aiming to improve developer productivity are finding that a new developer-centric approach focused on developer experience (also known as DevEx) unlocks valuable insights and opportunities. Gartner Inc. reports that 78 percent of surveyed organizations have a formal DevEx initiative either established or planned. Accordingly, there has been a continued rise in dedicated DevEx and platform teams being formed to help improve developer experience within their organizations.

Developer experience focuses on the lived experience of developers and the points of friction they encounter in their everyday work. In addition to improving productivity, DevEx drives business performance through increased efficiency, product quality, and employee retention. A 2020 McKinsey study found that companies with better work environments for their developers achieved revenue growth four to five times greater than that of their competitors.

This paper provides a practical framework for understanding DevEx, and presents a measurement framework that combines feedback from developers with data about the engineering systems they interact with. These two frameworks provide leaders with clear, actionable insights into what to measure and where to focus in order to improve developer productivity.

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This article first appeared on Last updated: December 18, 2023

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Written by Dr. Michaela Greiler who is obsessed with making code reviews your superpower. Learn more about her workshops.