4 pillars to measure your engineering team's success

2 April, 2021

From Kathryn Koehler (Director of Engineering at Netflix) & Madhav Nair (SVP of Engineering at Zoominfo)

To measure success, we must first know what success looks like! You can say that your engineering team is successful if it is:

  1. Efficient and effective ー As important as it is to ensure that your teams are healthy and executing, this execution should align with the company’s strategy. Your teams should be collaborative and catering to the needs of your customer, which brings us to our second category.
  2. Delivering value ー Delivering value to your business and customer, especially in the moment of need. This value should be delivered at a fast pace along with maintaining quality, security, & reliability.

Once you can define what success looks like to you, these four best practices to measure them will ensure productivity and satisfaction across your engineering organization:

1. Value for customers

Ask yourself these 4 questions to understand the value equation for your customers:

  • Are they able to benefit from your product?
  • Are they getting a seamless service?
  • Are they able to close deals using your product
  • Are they happy and giving good feedback?

The ability of your engineering team to deliver value to your customer at that precise moment of need; this is extremely crucial and will give you answers if your engineering is successful or not.

2. Productivity Metrics

Measuring productivity in engineering cannot be based on a single metric approach but instead a collection of various factors. These are some very important and foundational metrics to measure productivity and success:

  • Issue cycle time
  • Epic cycle time
  • The time gap between a pull request and the first comment
  • Frequency of deployment for customers
  • Mean time to resolution or restore
  • Frequency of Injecting failure
  • Lead time to value
  • The change failure rate for quality

These are some core principles around productivity, and more can be added to this list based on different organizations. One key concept that many overlook is “not to look at productivity in isolation.” Do not over-index on only the productivity metrics; to have a better vision; you need to collectively look at others like:

  • Quality metrics, or
  • Time to market metrics
  • Customer satisfaction

Velocity or lines of code cannot be treated as real metrics. E.g., If your engineering is not addressing the customers’ needs, then what is the point. Use these metrics as tools for your team to understand where to lean, where they are lacking, and where they need to catch up.

3. Happiness

Achieving good quality work from your engineers is surely dependent on their skills and expertise, but also on your ability, as an engineering leader, to create favourable conditions that will help bring-out the best from them. You can help bring your engineering teams one step closer to success by:

  • Developing a healthy culture - Where there is learning, innovation and your engineers are not afraid of risk-taking. If your engineers are confident, let them take chances and promote attempting new things. A transparent culture will ensure your teams are aware and excited about their work.
  • Helping them understand company strategy - There is a big difference when engineers work based on internalized strategies instead of blindly following requests. This will empower them to take decisions without much oversight and motivate them to come to work and make a difference.

4. Objectives and Key Results

OKRs can be very compelling tools if done correctly. This means that the goal of an objective and its key results are well-articulated, and the key results measure the outcome.

If your goal is to drive adoption, you should look at adoption rates instead of the fact that you shipped your product. If you are shooting for a 20% adoption, then put a key result there and hold your team accountable for that.

The ultimate success would be to have all your engineers (not only leaders/managers) answer questions like:

  • Why am I doing this task?
  • How does this align with the company priorities?
  • What is the value I am adding?
  • What is the user value?

Conclusion

Keep in mind that all these metrics should not be copied and pasted across all engineering teams. Devise a strategy where you can adopt some relevant metrics only for your teams and some that can be installed company-wide.

These metrics should also be a mix of some that are customized to fit each team and a handful that needs to be consistent across all teams.

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