Bossware: The #7 Developer Productivity Killer 

Uncover the impact of bossware on developer productivity. Learn how to combat the silent killer, with strategies to ensure engineering success.
How bossware is killing developer productivity?

Engineering teams love autonomy. The freedom to work on their own terms without micromanagement, flexibility to manage their time, work, and toolstack, along with a sense of ownership has historically made developers happier, and productive. 

Over 80% of developers seem to agree with the statement – With greater autonomy came better innovation, and higher growth!”. 

However, their desired autonomy, and trust within the system is threatened by the inevitable rise of bossware

As more and more companies turn to remote work after the pandemic, organizations have started to virtually look over their developer’s shoulders, and deploy workplace surveillance software. 

What might have started as a noble intention to track developer activities without hampering their flow state is now threatening organizational culture, and overall engineering productivity

Read this insight to know more about the menace of bossware, and how to navigate it to build happier, and productive engineering teams. 

What is Bossware?   

Bossware uses the pseudonym of “productivity, and performance monitoring software” to track developer efforts, even recording every second of your work activity. 

Historically, the workplace monitoring software was designed to avoid data leaks, and calibrating internal threats in sensitive industries like pharmaceuticals, and FinTech.  

The initial intention to use them during pandemic was to ensure remote work visibility into engineering efforts, and flag inefficient workflows, and identify overworked or underutilized employees without having to constantly disturb developers, and ask for minute status updates. 

However, we are now experiencing a more extreme, and aggressive usage of bossware, that has been nothing but antithetical to developer productivity, and engineering excellence. 

Most bossware even analyze, and rank developers on the basis of their active time on Slack/Microsoft Teams, mouse movements, console commands, user notification, social media monitoring, browser history, and the motion of their keyboard. Sometimes, these bossware even flag developers eating or drinking while they code, or reply to a chat. 

Impact of bossware on engineering teams

Without better ways of measuring developer throughput, engineering leaders might only be sending toxic work cultures home.

How Bossware Erodes Developer Productivity?

Resorting to bossware to measure developer output is a wild-goose chase. 

It’s like fishing in a dry pond– attempting to gauge productivity using redundant metrics (Slack active time, or keystrokes), with no real visibility into developers' work, and putting extra pressure on engineering teams to be constantly available.

  • Bossware often creates trust silos between engineering managers and their developers. A study by MIT Sloan seconds the finding– 92% of monitored employees don’t trust their employers. 81% of managers have also displayed trust issues with their workers. 
  • These collaboration friction often discourages managers from recognizing and acknowledging “real work” by developers. Instead, most teams actually reward always-on culture in the name of developer achievements, everytime bossware becomes their primary source of truth. 

Atleast in engineering teams, bossware seem to serve a futile purpose. 

Bossware and its impacts on developer well-being

Ironically, bossware promotes context switching, and loss of flow state for developers. User notifications from bossware can break your developer's concentration, and disrupt their deep work hours. This way, even high-effort work will be qualitatively fragmented. Rather than creating super amazing code, they are now worrying about what extra website they surfed on, or how they have to keep the Slack dot green. 

  • Bossware also makes developers self-conscious of their work. Devs are known to experience imposter syndrome in waves. The use of bossware might aggravate it. 
  • This over-consciousness also stems from the fact that 9 out of 10 companies known to use bossware aggressively have laid off their workforce after deploying it. How are devs supposed to work passionately, and be self-starters when the sword of termination is constantly laying over their heads? 
  • Developers in a flow state often make quick decisions and adapt on the fly. Constant surveillance hinders their autonomy, as they may feel the need to justify every action they take.
  • Moreover, an overemphasis on reductable, and misleading metrics like logging work hours, or keystrokes reduced productivity to simple measurements. More so, it takes away attention from the real productivity indicators– the capacity of the engineering team to write and deliver high quality code. 

Bossware has a psychological toll attached with its use. Workplace monitoring has been poised to induce a culture of anxiety, and stress, even affecting their well-being. 

With constant workplace stress, it doesn’t take time for long-term burnout to kick in, and sabotage developer’s work. 

On the business side of things, bossware also impacts your employee turnover. The 2019 Deloitte Global Millennial Survey revealed that 55% of millennials don’t want to work with companies that prioritize profits above their people. 

It can severely affect an enterprise’s recruitment costs, and even stretch the whole developmental pipeline. As of now, hiring a new developer costs organizations upto 35 days of work, excluding the background check, onboarding, and training days. 

Cost-wise, companies stand at losing 250% of the annual salary for each developer lost.

What Can Engineering Teams Do About The Bossware Sprawl?

Bossware promotes micromanagement in the garb of improved workflow visibility and higher productivity. So what should managers do next?

The fundamental problem here is not bossware per se, but the lack of trust, and autonomy between engineering leaders, and individual contributors. 

A different, but sustainable path would be to accept your developers with all their strengths, and weaknesses, while offering them the autonomy to work, and innovate. Some of them might experience imposter syndrome more frequently than others, a few will hate to speak their concerns on daily standups while another cohort won’t be able to say no to excessive workload. 

This way engineering managers might measure less, but understand, and trust more. 

Most high-performing teams celebrate autonomy, and a culture of trust. In the long-run, it is the only path to take for sustainable engineering success. As per Deloitte’s latest report, developer-manager trust has been established as a business-critical metric. 

Another way is to deploy actionable analytics, and privacy-driven software while you roll back your bossware laterally. 

An engineering management platform offers data-driven visibility into your engineering workflows with help of “real productivity” metrics. Rather than surveilling your developer’s work, an EMP helps teams recognize engineering work, flag workflow bottlenecks, and unblock devs to do their best work without sifting through Slack, or worrying about logging their workhours. 

Hatica work insight for engineering teams

An EMP collects and aggregates data from various sources within the engineering workflow, including code repositories, project management tools, and communication platforms to generate and segregate real-time, developer-centric reports that helps teams to improve their productivity in real-time. 

Tracking, and acting on code quality metrics, DORA metrics, technical debt, or project delivery vs mulling over browsing history, or cursor strokes of your developers– what would you choose?

The factual, and contextual data helps engineering teams to understand each other's work processes, while making room for individual growth and autonomy. 

Bottom Line: Invest In Developer Experience, Not Bossware 

Engineering leaders now need to know that putting trust in your developers than a workplace surveillance software will reap greater benefits in future. 

And that is why, developer experience, and engineering productivity have seemed to take a center stage in all executive conversations. Given the potential of DevEx in shortening time to market, and the role of developer productivity in adding another $3 trillion to the global GDP. 

Bossware is antithetical to measuring, and maximizing engineering efficiency. It measures people, rather than analyzing processes, and workflows, and that’s where it falls short of fulfilling its prophecy as a necessary-evil, or an “employee-friendly” tool.

The best way forward is to empower your workforce to constantly invest in their own development. The change will be possible only when their current developmental silos are broken, and engineering frictions are taken care of. 

Engineering management platforms like Hatica are doing their bit in driving transformation, and inching them closer to engineering excellence with every passing day. 

Know how Hatica can empower your engineering team to be hyper-productive without over the top monitoring. Book a free demo here→ 

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Table of Contents
  • What is Bossware?   
  • How Bossware Erodes Developer Productivity?
  • What Can Engineering Teams Do About The Bossware Sprawl?
  • Bottom Line: Invest In Developer Experience, Not Bossware 

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