What makes developers productive? And how is that measured? This is an issue that’s top of mind in the industry these days.

Some believe that lines of code written per day is still a valid metric. Some say you should measure development teams, not individuals.  Others say productivity stems from removing obstacles in the SDLC toolchain, and still others find more esoteric explanations.

Andrew Boyagi, senior technical evangelist at Atlassian, believes developers are most productive when they are happy. “Developer joy is the key to developer productivity,” he said. But unfortunately, the goals of companies often don’t align with work that gives developers joy, and since developers are paid to do a certain job, they often have to do things they find more mundane to put food on their tables.

Yet Boyagi believes the goals of business and developers are actually aligned, “but they speak past each other,” he said. “Senior leaders want their developers to be productive. If you look at a CIO or CEO, their primary concern probably isn’t developer joy. It’s more about getting products quicker into the market, satisfying customers, increasing revenue, doing more with less.” But to get that, he said, developers need to be happy to be productive. If leaders aimed for developer joy, they would get the outcome that they are after.

The software industry is perhaps unique in that developers already start with an inherent level of joy. They have a love of the craft and they love to share their knowledge with videos, tutorials and participating in online forums to talk about software development. Companies should foster that joy instead of taking it away. Boyagi believes it comes down to two things – the developer experience and engineering culture. 

“The developer experience is, how do they feel about the tools they use, the frameworks, everything that goes around that part of their role,” he explained. “And then you’ve got culture, which is, what are the values of the company? How do decisions get made? What are the legendary stories that get told around the company about this awesome thing they built, or something that happened in the company. Those two things together are really what drives developer joy, or allows it to flourish in an organization.”

There’s been a discussion forever about software development being an art or a science, and Boyagi thinks about it as an art, because there are so many different ways to get to a desired outcome. If you ask three artists to paint a fruit bowl, they will, but their paintings will likely be different from one another. “It’s the same with software development,” he said. “And so, you think, how do you measure the productivity of an artist? Do you count the brushstrokes? No, you don’t.”

What you should do, he continued, is give developers what they need in terms of tools, and  put them in an environment where they’re going to be happy and do their best work. “You give them the context and the brief of what you’re after, and then you let them do their magic.”

Boyagi does believe that some measure of work is important, especially for the CIOs and CTOs. “It feels nice and comfortable to measure it, because it’s a complex thing. Measures or metrics help simplify and justify, ‘Hey, look at how well we’re doing.’ Maybe spend some time doing that. But if you have 5,000 developers, spend three days speaking to them, and you’ll get 20 things you can do to improve their productivity. And I think that’s a much more valuable way to go than spending all your time trying to measure it.”

Andrew Boyagi will be presenting “Weaponized Developer Productivity – How Good Intentions Lead to Bad Outcomes” at the upcoming Improve: Productivity one-day virtual conference on Nov. 15. Registration is now open.