Software Development – Key Metrics for Effective Decision Making
Regardless of the end goal, development team structure, or any other variable, visibility is crucial for each and every project workflow.
Clear insight into definable and measurable concepts, such as the business value delivered and incidence of defects per feature, supports effective decision making about the project itself and can help inform future efforts as well. Metrics that are somewhat more subjective, like team happiness and motivation, can also be tracked, reviewed, and analyzed to create a more complete view of the project.
Real-time insight empowers team, department, and business leaders to identify possible issues before they turn into active problems, make effective adjustments, and determine a team’s strengths and potential areas for improvement. By selecting effective metrics and putting dependable tools in place to calculate and monitor them, development teams can benefit from a data-driven workflow designed to optimize resource spend and lead to more attractive, effective, and desirable final products.
Identifying and Selecting Valuable Metrics
To ensure relevance and usefulness, metrics need to align with the goals of the specific project at hand and the business as a whole. The development team, and any other relevant stakeholders, can then track and interpret the most relevant indicators for a specific project.
On a practical level, this requirement makes selecting metrics a relatively straightforward process. While teams and their leaders will need to review each project on an individual basis, the most important factors for success should already be clear. Those goals will narrow the list of potential metrics, making it easier to choose the most important options.
In some cases, metrics that are standard across the industry can easily be applied to specific projects. In others, it’s vital to use a less common set of metrics to accurately reflect project priorities and needs. No matter the situation, the key is to ensure relevance and value before moving forward.
An important, if not entirely positive, point to take into account: A lack of definition in terms of project or overall business goals is a clear sign of larger (although not insurmountable) problems, a condition that can’t be addressed by selecting one set of project metrics over another.
With the need to consider metrics for each individual project in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most relevant and popular options for tracking performance, progress, and other key indicators.
4 Broadly Useful Project Metrics to Keep in Mind
The following metrics can apply to a strong majority of development projects. Project managers and teams still need to ensure these choices are useful for the task at hand rather than automatically selecting them, but the following options are often a good place to start:
1. Value Delivered
Also called “business value delivery,” value delivered represents project development efficiency from a business point of view. By tracking and analyzing this metric, project managers can prioritize specific tasks based on the business profit expected to be derived from them.
This foundational goal can be at cross purposes with other important considerations that don’t directly drive value, such as technical debt solutions and project quality attributes. A holistic view of the project, then, is especially useful for striking a balance between value delivered and other core needs.
To measure value delivered, project managers track the sum of the business value parameters of the tasks delivered to end-users in a given time. The specifics can vary significantly. In one case, parameters may focus on generating an actual profit and increasing market share. In others, the key indicators may be raising user engagement with the product or improving product quality.
2. Delivery Lead Time
Delivery lead time represents the amount of time it takes work to move from an initial request to a completed state. It can be especially informative and useful in projects that involve the development of several features of the same type.
Fast and efficient delivery is a clear sign of strong performance, while slower timelines can indicate an issue or issues to be resolved. Tacking this metric allows stakeholders to more easily understand when changes to project architecture may be needed, based on the time required to complete a specific feature or group of them.
Delivery lead time measures the time elapsed from the point a piece of work – such as defect or feature – is requested (usually by a customer) to the point that it’s delivered to end users.
3. Team Velocity
The team velocity metric is an indication of the amount of work a team can be expected to complete in a specific unit of time. In agile development methodologies, team velocity generally refers to the number of story points completed during a single sprint.
Tracking this metric provides a clear indication of a team’s overall performance and efficiency. The results can be used to make effective adjustments, and to motivate or otherwise encourage members of the team. By comparing the most recent time period or sprint to those recently completed in the past, it’s possible to develop longer-term insight and forecasting for future performance.
To accurately determine team velocity, it’s crucial to define both the time period and the criteria for completion. Agile methodologies make this simple, as sprints and story points are already known concepts.
It’s important to note that if a team’s composition changes, the development process has recently been optimized, or project requirements have recently experienced a substantial change, the value of this metric will likely be limited. Comparisons and analysis of recent iterations are only useful when all of these elements are substantially similar to each other.
4. Team Happiness and Motivation
The team happiness and motivation metric offers valuable information about employee satisfaction and engagement. The professionals who make up the development team are the single most valuable resource in any given project. Ensuring these individuals are content and ready to perform their duties is vital for realizing success — and achieving positive results in other key metrics.
Compared to the other metrics on this list, team happiness and motivation is more subjective. There isn’t an objective dollar value or amount of work completed to be tracked and then included in calculations. However, there are certain measurements that can be used to determine if team members are in a positive and productive state of mind.
Quantifiable concepts that can be used to assess happiness and motivation include the length of employees’ tenure with the company, the number of internal referrals for vacant positions, or the number of complaints made about working conditions and project specifics. Surveys that ask employees to provide answers on a numerical scale to determine team engagement, and then calculating the Net Promoter Score from an internal perspective, can also offer insight.
5 Widely Applicable Quality and Infrastructure Metrics
Project- and team-based metrics are especially useful, but far from the only valuable category of metrics to consider as part of a management and oversight strategy. Metrics that indicate either concerns or strong performance in terms of the project’s quality and infrastructure can prove crucial to realizing positive outcomes. Consider these five frequently used metrics:
1. Bug Escape Rate
The bug escape rate represents the number of defects missed in production. It’s crucial in bug-sensitive projects, as it plays a key role in determining the effectiveness of quality assurance processes. The metric is generally subdivided between new bugs and existing ones that have reemerged.
2. Defects Per Feature
Tracking defects per feature provides a clear indication of the overall accuracy and efficacy of processes specific to a given project feature. Similarly to the bug escape rate, it also indicates the effectiveness of quality assurance measures.
3. Test Coverage Percentage
The test coverage percentage metric defines the trade-off between the number of tests created for project units, how much source code those units cover, the resources needed for maintenance, and the profit that stems from those activities.
4. Application/Performance Monitoring
This metric quantifies operational efficiency and the achievement of business goals, as well as the ability to identify and address errors and exceptions as they occur.
5. Project and Infrastructure Downtime
These metrics are vital for high-availability projects and generally address requirements related to service-level agreements (SLAs) and meeting customer expectations. Tracking these metrics supports efforts to improve service availability.
Supporting Dev Team Success With Relevant Metrics
Data-driven guidance, based on sound concepts for measuring key outcomes and utilizing accurate figures to fuel calculations, empowers project managers and development teams to operate with agility and confidently adjust to changing circumstances. Metrics go beyond intuition, providing quantifiable and actionable results that ultimately improve processes, outcomes, and final products.
At Transcenda, our teams recognize the enduring value of effective metrics and rely on these valuable indicators to guide their efforts and make the development process as efficient and positive as possible. View our case studies to learn more about our work, or get in touch to discover how we can help your organization scale, transform, and bring new products to market.