🎉

Hatica announces v3: Closing the loop on Driving Engineering Productivity 🎯Read More >

Well Being2024-05-29

How Healthy is My Engineering Team? A Guide to Assess Your Engineering Team’s Performance

Is your engineering team healthy? In this blog, Learn the first step to building a robust engineering team and discover practical strategies for conducting a self-assessment to identify strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement.
How Healthy is My Engineering Team?

We often hear about speeding up development, getting better results, and maximizing productivity in engineering teams. But we rarely take a step back to look at the overall performance of our teams, what’s slowing them down, and how we can make them both happy and productive.

Engineering teams juggle many tasks and processes. Over time, cracks can appear, hurting your team's long-term performance.

This is where an overall team health check on your engineering teams becomes pivotal. As an engineering leader, you must carry out a self-assessment of the ‘health’ of your engineering team at regular intervals including operations, workflows, processes and people. 

Think about it. Engineering teams juggle tons of tasks and processes. Cracks are bound to appear, hurting your team in the long run. This is where self-introspection comes in. It's a simple yet powerful way of taking a step back and understanding how well your team is really doing.

It is opportune to step back and ask yourself, “Is my engineering team healthy?”. This might translate into deep-diving into alignment of engineering effort with business outcomes, slowness in delivery velocity, or quality of the code being shipped or doing a pulse check on the overall developer experience for your team.

The ‘health’ of any engineering team can be mapped to multiple parameters at various touch points across the software development life cycle. It is not important that what hinders one engineering team might be slowing down other engineering teams as well. Each engineering team is unique and so are their problems.

The truth is, that a healthy engineering team isn't just about hitting deadlines. It's about fostering a culture of continuous development and innovation. A happy, and emotionally invested team is the secret weapon for achieving sustainable success, and getting a higher ROI in the long run. That is what we have learned from the top tech global companies who work hard to drive engineering excellence. 

In this blog, we explore why assessing your engineering team's health is crucial and is also the first step towards building high-performing engineering teams. This further highlights the need to identify “What do you wish to measure in your engineering team?”

We'll explore practical ways to gauge team health and make real and continuous improvements. By the end, you'll be equipped with actionable advice to then address the issues slowing down your engineering teams and where to even get started. 

So, let’s dive in. 

Why Focus on Building A Healthy Engineering Team?

First of all, as an engineering leader, it is imperative to have a grasp on how your team is doing qualitatively & quantitatively.
Software engineering has become more complex over the past decade. Projects are bigger, and customer expectations are higher. The landscape is changing fast everyday. This puts a lot of pressure on engineering teams to continue to innovate and be able to scale at the same time.
Moreover, with the rise of AI tools like Copilot, GitBrain, Gemini Code Assist, Amazon CodeWhisperer, etc. not only have customer expectations changed, but internal stakeholders and business teams also expect faster and better results. The speed of innovation and adaptability to changing business requirements is the key to creating a differentiated engineering team in a fiercely competitive landscape.

This growing complexity and expectation can challenge even the most skilled engineers.

A key strategy for handling these challenges is to create a healthy and supportive work environment. It demands engineering leaders to create an engineering culture where teams are motivated to deliver their best. This goes beyond just making work more enjoyable; sending work-culture emails on Fridays, or those offsites or virtual team-meets where participation is mere attendance but nothing happens for real to build a cohesive, healthy, happy and productive engineering team. We all know that healthy teams are scalable and more apt in delivering better than the rest. A healthy team can grow and take on more complex projects without burning out or fear of losing the grip on the delivery momentum. Yet we make no serious attempts in bridging the gap, primarily because we do not know where to start.

In the next section we will explore the initial steps you must take to lay the foundation of a healthy, happy, and productive engineering team - Assessing your engineering team’s overall health. 

How to Diagnose Your Team's Health?

Over the past three years, we’ve talked to many engineering teams. Each time, we find that Engineering Leaders have a question at the top of their concerns, “Am I doing right by my team?”

If that question sounds familiar, it’s time for a comprehensive “health assessment” to understand what is expected of your team, where they currently stand, and where improvements are needed.

But is that possible? It is.

Our extensive experience reveals a common trend: many engineering teams aim for smooth, on-time releases, yet few achieve this consistently. This recurring challenge underscores the critical need to address it directly.

To tackle this, we developed our engineering excellence benchmarks (as you can see below). These benchmarks are based on insights from over 600 engineering teams, these benchmarks helped us narrow down some of the most recurring issues the teams we talked to face.. Therefore in the next sections, we'll share real-world examples of how these metrics were viewed by engineering teams we talked to and how they are being leveraged, effectively.

Engineering Excellence Benchmarks

We’ve boiled down these benchmarks into four key areas: Alignment, Velocity, Developer Experience and Quality. These pillars line up with the DORA metrics and cover the core aspects of a team's performance and sustainability.

Why These Four Pillars Matter:

We’ve identified four crucial areas for a team's performance and sustainability: Alignment, Velocity, Developer Experience, and Quality, all aligned with DORA metrics. Alignment ensures everyone works towards the same goals, boosting motivation and synergy, even though some non-roadmap work is unavoidable. Velocity measures how quickly work is completed, but it needs proper alignment to be effective; otherwise, it can be counterproductive. Balancing alignment and velocity can be challenging, and this is where Developer Experience comes in, focusing on team health and managing technical debt to prevent burnout. Quality is essential for user satisfaction, emphasizing regular deployments and high standards to build trust and avoid last-minute crises.

These four pillars aren't magic solutions, but they provide a solid direction for any engineering team. By focusing on them, teams can move beyond guesswork and build a team that’s not just fast, but also efficient, healthy, and producing top-notch work.

Now that we have this definitive context behind the four pillars, let's view these engineering benchmarks and how many engineering teams are leveraging it.

Alignment

1. Roadmap Work

Roadmap work helps your team understand the "why" behind their daily tasks. By seeing how your work contributes to the bigger goals, you feel more invested and motivated, and as you complete sprints, your roadmap becomes a record of what's been accomplished. 

This allows you to identify any gaps between your initial plan and reality. Maybe certain features are taking longer than expected, or new priorities have emerged.

By regularly reviewing your progress against the roadmap, you can identify the need for course correction. Maybe a roadmap goal needs to be adjusted, or a sprint needs to be replanned. The roadmap helps you stay agile and adapt to changing priorities. 

2. Ad Hoc Work

The ideal way to work is to plan out the work, map out the objectives, and then just do it. But in today’s engineering teams, unexpected issues and external dependencies are part of the game. That's why most teams schedule some buffer time.

However, if unplanned work starts eating up more than 10% of your developers' time, that's a red flag, and you need to monitor your systems to identify the issue. The challenge is most of the times this “ad hoc work” goes unnoticed or gets noticed when a team has slipped timelines on multiple deliverables time and again.

3. Technical Debt

One sneaky metric that can derail your goals is technical debt. Think of it like accumulating interest on a credit card – it might seem manageable in the short term, but it can slow you down significantly in the long run. 

Best-in-class engineering teams maintain technical debt at less than 10% of their total development effort, ensuring sustainability and agility. If your team's tech debt is creeping above 20%, it’s time to prioritize addressing these issues.

The more technical debt you have, the harder it is to find what you need and make changes. This can slow down development significantly, making it harder to meet deadlines and deliver new features. 

So naturally, tackling technical debt requires going back to the relevant data and figuring out what your next steps are. 

4. Planning Accuracy

If most of your team's work aligns with an overall plan, you're on the right track, and your planning accuracy is to be commended. But sometimes, you might notice your sprints go off the rails because your predictions for the sprint weren’t as accurate as you thought they’d be.

Therefore, high planning accuracy can help your team come to a more realistic understanding of how much work can be accomplished in a sprint. 

The only way to be accurate with your planning is to have a long hard look at your data, measure how your previous predictions differed from this one, and allocate resources accordingly.

All of these parameters put together give you a clear perspective into how efficient you and your team have been in planning your work, accomplishing the planned work on time and what would it take to achieve a higher level of alignment within your team.

A good benchmark is achieving over 80% accuracy in planning, which suggests your predictions and outcomes are aligned. If accuracy falls below 50%, your planning processes need a serious overhaul to avoid inefficiencies and misallocated resources.

Velocity

1. Coding Time

Coding time is at the heart of SDLC practices. Tracking coding time helps you understand each and every developer’s deep work patterns within your engineering team, enabling you to create an environment that minimizes distractions and allows developers to concentrate. 

Elite teams have it down to less than half an hour. 

If you notice sudden spikes in coding time for a particular developer, such as clocking in more than 24 hours, it is time to dissect what's clogging up the pipeline.

This can indicate they need extra help or that the task was underestimated during planning. This makes it a very important metric to keep track of. 

2. PR Pickup Time

Quick PR reviews keep developers in the zone. Elite teams aim for PR pickup times of less than an hour.

The longer they wait for feedback on their code, the more likely context and momentum are lost. 

This can lead to frustration and delays in completing tasks. Therefore, by tracking PR pickup times regularly, you can identify and suggest areas for improvement within your team.

Faster pickup times ensure that code reviews are promptly addressed, keeping the development cycle moving efficiently.

Maybe the data might suggest that you need to assign additional reviewers with relevant expertise or schedule dedicated code review sessions to avoid logjams. This will further help you streamline processes. 

3. Review Time

So, we've talked about how long it takes for a developer to get their code reviewed (PR pickup time), but what about the actual review itself? Like many things in life, striking the balance is also the key here: Super-quick reviews might miss critical issues, while excessively long reviews can slow down progress. 

By monitoring review times, you can identify trends and ensure reviewers are providing thoughtful feedback without creating bottlenecks.

4. Deploy Time

So, your code is sparkling clean and ready to go. How frequently do you deploy? Elite teams deploy more than once a day, demonstrating remarkable agility. 

The longer code sits between development and production, the higher the risk of something going wrong. By streamlining your deployment process, you reduce the window of opportunity for errors to creep in and cause issues in production.

Moreover, quick deployments mean users get new features and bug fixes faster. This allows you to gather real-world feedback sooner and iterate more quickly, keeping your product relevant and competitive.

5. Merge Frequency

There's no one-size-fits-all answer for merge frequency. It all depends on your engineering team's size, project complexity, and risk tolerance.

However regular merges help maintain a smooth flow of integration between different features. More than twice a week places you in the elite category, sparking continuous integration and development. This reduces the risk of merge conflicts, which can be time-consuming to resolve and slow down progress.

But if you're merging less than once a week, it’s a red flag signaling a need to rev up your team’s engine. By keeping an eye on it, you can find the sweet spot that keeps your codebase stable, fosters collaboration, and ensures a smooth workflow. 

Cycle time also plays a crucial role in velocity, and monitoring cycle time is almost like peeking into the health of your engineering team. To understand the nitty-gritty of cycle time, we encourage you to give it a thorough read here

Developer Experience

To maintain a healthy and productive engineering team, we take inspiration from the SPACE framework and focus on five key areas: Satisfaction & Well-Being, Performance, Activity, Communication & Collaboration, and Efficiency & Flow. Ensuring developer satisfaction and retention helps us gauge engagement and productivity.

We break this down in the next section.

1. Quiet Days and Maker Time

We all know those dedicated stretches of time, free from meetings, are essential for deep work. But the reality of software development is constant updates, collaboration needs, and the ever-present "just one quick question" meeting dilemma.

Blocking regular chunks of time away from meetings for your developers helps bridge the gap between ideal and reality. Measuring quiet days gives developers the space for deep work and the opportunity for Maker Time, where they can write intricate and complex code without needing much rework, ultimately pushing to deployment faster.

2. Review Participation

We all know code reviews are crucial for keeping our codebase clean and lean. But sometimes, they can feel like a chore - just another box to tick. The magic happens when reviews become a two-way street, a chance for everyone to learn and improve together.

The key ingredient? Active participation! When everyone gets involved, digs in, and shares their knowledge, the whole codebase benefits.

When this is regularly analysed and encouraged, the approach to code reviews within developers can change. 

3. Code Churn

The more you tinker with the code, the messier it gets. A bit of code churn is normal, especially in the early stages of development. However, constantly rewriting code increases the likelihood of bugs and the overall codebase harder to maintain and understand, complicating the onboarding of new developers and the introduction of future features.

Regularly monitoring code churn encourages developers to spend more time with the code, leading to cleaner, error-free output. This ensures that the final product is easier to maintain and understand, benefiting both current and future team members.

4. Change Size

Following up on code churn, fixing a small bug can be like finding the last puzzle piece - quick and easy! These little fixes are helpful, but too many in a row can slow things down.

Big changes, like overhauling a whole section, are risky. They take longer to check, might cause new problems, and can be confusing for others. This can lead to delays and frustration. 

Therefore, the sizes of these changes are an important part of tracking. 

Meanwhile, DORA metrics, especially MTTR (mean time to recover), CFR (Change Failure Rate, and Deployment Frequency act like a scorecard that shows how well your engineering team is performing (these metrics cover many aspects of a team's overall health). We recommend you give them a read here.

Wrap-Up: Reflecting on the Data

By now, you've gathered valuable insight into your engineering team’s health, gaining key insights into your engineering team's performance and current standing.

This information becomes your launchpad for even greater success.

Think of it like this: you, as a leader, have collected crucial intelligence. Now, it is time to identify areas where your team can truly shine. Given the resources and timelines now you are in a better position to figure out an effective course correct to build a high-performing engineering team. You can uncover any potential weaknesses and develop a strategic plan to optimize their effectiveness.

Remember, assessment is just the first step in building a high-performing team. Stay tuned for the next section, where we'll unveil a comprehensive 5-step guide designed to fix a bleeding engineering team and propel them toward peak performance. This blog will give you further insights into the tools and strategies you need for any performance gaps.

Keep an eye out for our upcoming blog post!

Meanwhile, if you’re ready to take the first step and effectively assess your engineering team's health, our productivity experts are here to help. Reach out today, and let’s boost your team’s productivity together.

Catch you in the next one. 

Subscribe to Hatica's blog

Get bi-weekly insights straight to your inbox

Share this article:
Table of Contents
  • Why Focus on Building A Healthy Engineering Team?
  • How to Diagnose Your Team's Health?
  • Why These Four Pillars Matter:
  • Alignment
  • 1. Roadmap Work
  • 2. Ad Hoc Work
  • 3. Technical Debt
  • 4. Planning Accuracy
  • Velocity
  • 1. Coding Time
  • 2. PR Pickup Time
  • 3. Review Time
  • 4. Deploy Time
  • 5. Merge Frequency
  • Developer Experience
  • 1. Quiet Days and Maker Time
  • 2. Review Participation
  • 3. Code Churn
  • 4. Change Size
  • Wrap-Up: Reflecting on the Data

Ready to dive in? Start your free trial today

Overview dashboard from Hatica