Blog articles

Pluralsight Flow and the SPACE of developer productivity

November 10, 2021

By: Adam Sockel, Pluralsight Content Strategist

In the most basic terms, productivity in software development can be defined as the amount of lines of code produced. A slight step further would also define it as the number of new products, features, and services pushed out in the market. The endgame of development teams is to get end users the solutions they need as quickly as possible. This description, however, is a total misconception. It lacks nuance, oversimplifying processes that involve countless aspects. It ignores the context of the “‘why” and “how” that new code gets written. Despite the rise of AI and automationdevelopers are human beings, not robots. 

The success and productivity of a technologist or DevOps team involves myriad different inputs and factors. One powerful tool that orgs now use is the DORA metrics. DORA helps clarify processes and how to improve them but what about the people who are performing the tasks that make up those processes? This is where SPACE comes in.

What is the SPACE of developer productivity?

Recently, Nicole Forsgren led a team that created a framework for measuring the aspects of productivity in a way that takes into account the human side of development. They understood that there is no single metric for measuring success and productivity. Productivity is more than the number of commits, lines of code or number of PRs. It’s about communication amongst teams and team members. It’s about how efficient contributors can be as well as how they feel. In short, productivity can be an all encompassing measurement if you have the framework. Thus, SPACE was created. 

The five metrics of SPACE

  • Satisfaction + Well Being - The first metric the SPACE team looked at was the mental health aspect of the developer world. Satisfaction is more than, “am I happy?” Rather, it’s a perceptual measurement about whether developers view the work they’re doing in a positive or negative way. It shows how connected they feel to the code they’re writing or any dissatisfaction they may have for the process. It also highlights potential mentorship and leadership opportunities. Research has shown that times of high productivity are also highly correlated with feeling more satisfied and happy with work (Forsgren et al. 2021)

  • Performance - Performance can be thought of as the outcome of a process; be it code review velocity or frequency of needed changes. It’s a metric that provides context and data at both the individual and team levels.  

  • Activity - Activity is similar to the historically accepted metric of the number of code reviews completed. It’s also the most misused. Combined with the other metrics of SPACE, however, it plays an important part in the overall evaluation of the productivity of the team. 

  • Communication + Collaboration - Writing and reviewing code can be a collaborative process by nature, and creating a way to measure or score the quality or thoughtfulness of code reviews is a way to evaluate communication qualitatively.

  • Efficiency + Flow - Developers often describe flow as an uninterrupted period of time when they are able to focus on delivering tasks related to project work items. Performing code reviews, planning sessions and retros is important but they also take away from workflow, which could cause delays in your production process. It’s a delicate balance between performing these important tasks while also assuring you can offer your technologists uninterrupted coding hours.

Using SPACE with your technologists

The team behind this framework suggests using at least three of the above five metrics to create an accurate understanding of the productivity of your technologists. This provides leadership with a holistic understanding of the fact that code written alone does not equal activity, nor does productivity directly mean individual performance. The metrics you track will directly influence how your developers and executives both view productivity. It will also color how your developers see their individual work as part of overall company goals 

This makes it essential to have the necessary tools to report on these metrics so you can create a healthy environment for your technologists to not just create new products but also feel satisfied in their work. Technologists who understand their roles on your team and feel satisfied with their work are more likely to stay at your organization, improving your retention rates and reducing the loss of time and money needed to bring in new talent.

So, how do you measure and report on these metrics to create that healthy environment?

Pluralsight Flow and SPACE

You can’t make accurate projections on the productivity of your technologists unless you can easily track data on all the moving parts of your development process. Pluralsight Flow streamlines your workflow to optimize for any metrics of the SPACE framework you want to track. 

Flow helps you see the data behind your sprint cycles, commits per day, Time to Merge, your Code Efficiency and much more. Flow helps you recognize project bottlenecks, improving performance and activity numbers. It provides concrete data around commits and code churn, so you can have more thoughtful discussions about how your devs’ work connects to overall projects. Flow allows for holistic transparency for your entire Engineering and DevOps team, helping them feel more connected to company goals and, thus, more satisfied in their work.

Flow provides opportunities to break down sprints, releases, and retros to better understand where lag times may be coming from. It helps improve communication and collaboration by highlighting how and where senior engineers are providing mentorship and positive feedback. It lets you easily observe team dynamics to find patterns that can be replicated or adjusted when necessary. It allows team leads to offer context for decisions being made, increasing team trust and collaboration. 

Crucially, Flow also provides a level of clarity and transparency that benefits the organization and technologists alike. Flow can drive employee satisfaction and improved mental health by enabling technologists to advocate for themselves. It highlights who may be at risk of burnout due to high workload or those who are performing exclusively tech debt work. This data-driven advocacy provides enormous peace of mind and leads to healthier and more enjoyable work environments for all involved. 

The last few years have forced orgs around the world to be reactive to the changing environment for their workforce and what it means for the concept of productivity. Frameworks like SPACE and DORA are massively influential in creating a healthy, thriving technology team that feels connected, valued and fulfilled. As the number of developers seeking out new opportunities continues to grow, it’s more important than ever to create agreements where productivity is more than just lines of code written. SPACE is a dynamic way to better evaluate your team's success through data and communication. Pluralsight Flow can help you find that essential data and take action.