March 5, 2024

How Are Software Developers Thinking About Productivity in 2024?

Jess Cooper

Jess Cooper

Productivity means something different to everyone. Learn how devs are thinking about it in this latest survey blog post.

How Are Software Developers Thinking About Productivity in 2024?

How Are Software Developers Thinking About Productivity in 2024?

Software developer productivity has been a hot topic for the past few years. As tech company budgets shrink and funding opportunities become scarce, companies are forced to do more with less. Oftentimes this means battening down the hatches and finding ways to encourage more productivity from your staff.

But what does more productivity mean, anyway? One thing is for certain: companies are all over the map in their ways of thinking about and measuring productivity.

And not only that, but software developers have an entirely different benchmark for measuring their own personal productivity compared to how their companies might be measuring their productivity. 

We wanted to get to the bottom of this and understand more of the developers’ perspective on productivity, so we sent out a qualitative survey to learn more. We believe that understanding how devs think about productivity is the key to unlocking more motivation and creating better working environments.

In a perfect world, a great working environment for devs would lead to healthy amounts of productivity. But before we proceed, it’s important to remember that software developers are human beings, and they aren’t infinite resources to be maximized. Encouraging productivity and creating positive working environments is noble, but pushing people beyond what’s fair is not.

[This blog is based on a qualitative survey we sent to 12 software developers in our community. These answers are anecdotal, but insightful, providing an in-depth look into software developer’s mindframes around productivity in 2024]

Core metrics for measuring team productivity

Before we dive into how software developers think about productivity (which is arguably more interesting,) we’ll quickly share how the respondents' companies are measuring productivity.

The vast majority of the surveyed devs' teams measure productivity through story points, implying that they're using some sort of agile or scrum framework for project/work management.

The second most common answer was velocity, which also fits nicely in that bucket.

After that, the commonalities started to dwindle. Some teams measure productivity by tickets, some by commits, and others by projects or tasks completed. Some don’t even measure productivity at all.

How devs measure their personal productivity at work

How developers measure their own personal productivity at work is where things start to get interesting. What we noticed when reviewing the data is that the answers here vary, but have similar sentiments: getting s*** done.

If there's one thing you take away from this blog, it’s that developers want to work without interruptions and without unnecessary steps bogging them down.

So how are devs measuring their own productivity? Here are some stand-out quotes.

"Making steady progress on the main priorities without frequent backtracking due to quality issues."

"The number of 50 minute blocks of time that I accomplished something worth journaling."

"To me, being productive means being able to focus well on the current task, like a feature or a bug fix."

There were a few exceptions to the above theme. One particular answer focused more on delivering business value,

"Business impact generated. It's not about story points or PRs sent or number of commits, those are misguiding indicators. It's about "how much does this move the business metrics"

Another developer mentioned percentage of completion towards the company’s defined OKR.

If you're a software team leader, rest assured your developers want to get work accomplished just as much as you want them to.

What makes developers feel accomplished

Creating a sense of accomplishment is incredibly important for keeping people motivated and engaged. Without the satisfaction of accomplishment, it's easier to burn out or forget the big picture of what you're working towards. In our survey, we really wanted to understand what makes software developers feel accomplished. Here are some highlights.

Making measurable progress towards an end goal is a big source of accomplishment for devs.

"Feeling like I took steps forward on my main priorities.”

"At least one action that gets me closer to a larger goal."

A number of devs shared that they feel accomplished when they can see the impact of their work on the quality of the codebase.

"Producing non-trivial artifacts (code or a document)."

"I like to see visible improvements in the code base (GitHub differences) and completed features in deployment.”

"Adding a new feature or fixing a tricky bug."

How a developer's productivity relates to their happiness and fulfillment

Based on the response we received, there's no doubt that there’s a strong correlation between developer productivity and their happiness and fulfillment. In fact, it's difficult to separate the two–one developer described them as "inextricably linked".

"If I cannot be productive, I find it harder to work and enjoy my work less. When I'm productive, the day goes fast and I enjoy what I am doing."

"Productivity needs an outcome. Without outcome it's just nine to five. And when there is outcome there is happiness."

"I like to feel like I made an impact - either within my team or in the larger org. Lack of productivity, underemployment, working on trivial stuff makes me frustrated"

Some developers do note the importance of productivity on happiness but cite other additional factors as contributors to their overall happiness at work

"It's a big chunk, I wouldn't say it's everything, because I enjoy just having a good culture and having a nice time at work too. But, it definitely is satisfying knowing that I've done a lot."

Developer-controlled factors for improved productivity

Now that we understand how developers define their productivity and how important it is to them for their happiness at work, let’s dive into what factors developers feel like they can control when it comes to their productivity. These are factors that are outside of work structures, conditions and processes.

Some developers talked about how they approach structuring their work as a means for improving their productivity.

"Having a clear focus and setting a clear intention. Breaking down a project into small, well-defined pieces. Allocating my time in a way that's aligned with my top priorities.”

"Reducing scope to be able to deliver on time without sacrificing quality and cost."

"Not over-defining multi-step tasks (projects). Slowing down to really understand my relationship to a "thing" that wants to get done. Focusing on outcomes instead of effort."

Whereas other developers focus more on taking care of their mind and body to set themselves up for success (food is important if you hadn’t already guessed!)

"Mostly just the setting and music around me."

"My work environment, music, food"

"My feeding schedule."

External factors that affect developer productivity

To round this out, let’s take a look at the top external factors developers list as blocking their productivity. These are things that they can’t change and are forced to manage in their working environment.

Developers know to expect the unexpected, but that doesn’t mean it won’t impact their productivity.

"Things going wrong, unexpected or not as expected, which can be very interesting, but also can create unexpected additional workload and delays which can add unhealthy amounts of stress which will effect productivity negatively too."

"Unexpected bugs popping up, or scope changes."

Sometimes cumbersome processes and bureaucracy can get in the way of productivity, too.

"Nature of work - how well defined it is, too much bureaucracy (filling every single field on Jira tickets, needless meetings), unclear expectations for me."

"Enterprise pipelines, firewalls, access red-tape, project manager."

Additionally, some developers mentioned unwelcomed interruptions as productivity killers–like messages and too many meetings.

Where do we go from here?

We’ve covered a lot of insights in this blog post. You might be wondering, how do I use this information to create a better environment for developers?

The first is to really internalize this sentiment: Developers want to be productive. It makes them happy. It brings them satisfaction.

It’s virtually impossible to create a working environment that’s completely void of anything that could compromise productivity. However, it can always be improved. Take the insights in this blog as clues as to where you can start observing in your organization. Ask your direct reports questions how they’re feeling about these productivity factors. Then, you can start diagnosing where you might have some room to help maximize productivity.

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