Software development is about more than the end result. Ultimately, user acceptance is the goal, but a successful project also depends on quality, resources used, time spent, and production performance. A deliverable achieved through an inefficient or painful development process doesn’t benefit the company, your development team, or the end-user.
By developing and reviewing metrics, your business can better understand the performance of your software developers. Key performance indicators (KPIs) can show you where your team may be lacking and help drive a roadmap for improvement.
Let’s review some of the software development KPIs that you should be incorporating into your overall project management.
Software Development KPIs Around Quality
Measuring overall performance has to start with understanding your business questions. It is not about using an arbitrary benchmark. Instead, you should be formulating your KPIs around your goals for your team and the incremental improvement you hope to achieve.
To begin, look at the overall product or feature that you are trying to deliver. What is the desired business outcome for your users? How can the metrics that you define help you measure the success of that outcome?
Often, your KPIs will revolve around quality, and the reason for this is twofold:
- Lower quality from your development team can result in increased costs and more time spent addressing issues.
- Lower quality for your end-users can result in loss of business or decreased efficiency.
By defining various metrics around quality, you can establish the KPIs that align with your desired business outcomes.
Your overall code quality has a major impact on your finished product, both today and down the road. Poor code can make it more difficult to add functionality or to support activities in the future.
While there is no singular definition of “good code” versus “bad code,” there are some metrics you can use to measure code quality.
- Stable Code: Code that does not break or negatively impact the application
- Testable Code: Code that can be tested easily through automated systems
- Code Churn: Minimizing the need to re-code for future changes
- Cyclomatic complexity: Writing code with a clear intent for other developers and machines
- Code Documentation: Ability to share code knowledge across teams
- Readability and Formatting: Code that meets formatting standards, is consistent, and has appropriate comments.
You will write your KPIs around what “good code” means for each of these metrics. For example, stable code can be measured by downtime or reported issues once the code is in production.
You can improve your overall code quality through regular code reviews. This can be done both through developer collaboration or automated processes. By setting your code quality KPIs, you can focus on the type of improvement needed for a better product.
While code quality measures your developers’ performance, testing quality KPIs focuses on the productivity of your QA team. Testing quality impacts overall product maturity and production readiness.
By evaluating testing KPIs, you can improve the overall quality of your releases and minimize bugs.
Test coverage looks at the overall percentage of the code that is covered by test cases. This can be through automated or manual QA testing. High test coverage ensures that requirements are met and identifies potential issues before they reach the end-users.
Defects are an indicator of issues both in coding and testing. If bugs are found during user acceptance testing (UAT), it means that both coding and testing need improvements.
Defects in production cause even more issues. They can result in overall software dissatisfaction and loss of business. You want to ensure that the highest percentage of bugs are eliminated prior to release.
Production bugs may also cause you to look at the effectiveness of UAT. If too many issues are slipping through this stage, look at how to improve your UAT process.
If there are issues in overall application availability or performance, users may be quick to abandon it. This is an important KPI because it measures a tangible impact on users and the ability of your DevOps team to troubleshoot and respond.
Mean time between failures (MTBF) and mean time to recovery/repair (MTTR) both evaluate your system’s overall performance in production. They indicate a lower quality of work that went into production, the quality of the staff responding to an issue, and the potential for revenue loss.
The amount of time that your application is offline evaluates the solution’s availability. Outside of scheduled maintenance, if your application is unavailable, you have caused issues for your users.
For web applications, page load time affects the overall users’ experience. If page load time is too long, users may leave, and you will rank lower in search results.
Your security metrics will show a level of risk that your product currently poses, as well as trends for security over time. These can be important for evaluating the need to resolve any security issues.
When evaluating security, you should have metrics around all of the following:
- The number of security incidents at each endpoint (client machine, mobile, etc.)
- The severity of each security incident
- Any vulnerabilities found with penetration testing
- The number of unresolved issues
- The portion of your applications covered by security
- The time to resolve a security incident
- Cost per incident (both direct and indirect)
Security is complex, and you want KPIs that will help you evaluate risk and make the necessary adjustments.
Agile Software Development KPIs
With its increase in adoption among software development teams, agile development is the new standard. Between flexibility and rapid response, agile workflow is more collaborative and controlled than the traditional waterfall development methodology of the past.
Agile development KPIs can help to evaluate the performance of the team and guide strategic planning. Some key metrics specific to agile development include:
- Sprint burndown: How much work a team completed during a sprint
- Release burndown: Whether a team will meet a specific release date
- Velocity: How many story points or hours are completed during a sprint
- Cycle time: How much time a team spends working on a task
- Cumulative flow: The status of tickets over time, identifying bottlenecks
- Flow efficiency: Distribution between waiting periods and starting work
Agile metrics are not standardized. You need to look at the KPIs in the context of your team and instead focus on trends. You can establish a baseline for performance and identify any irregularities within a sprint or changes over time.
Because of the short sprints that are the hallmark of agile software development, the “big picture” is often lost. By looking at KPIs, you can conduct an evaluation and plan to address any issues.
Meeting your metrics for code, testing, production, and security quality is only half of the battle. The real test for your software development efforts will come from your user acceptance.
If your users do not adopt what your team puts into production, then all of your efforts do not meet the overall business goals. Delivering nine out of ten features requested only to find that they missed the mark is a waste.
If you were expecting a specific end result from your development project, formulating a KPI around customer behavior should be easy to quantify. Did you see an increase in sales? Are your users experiencing increased efficiency?
In other instances, this may be harder to measure. You may need to form KPIs around user adoption based on a hypothesis.
Can you quantify solving a specific business need? Do you have metrics to measure how much users engage with a new feature?
One way to measure overall success is through customer surveys. Ask your customers the questions that you want to have answered and analyze the results. Survey questions can be as simple as a range from “very satisfied” to “very dissatisfied.”
Once you have completed a survey, look at your percentages of satisfied versus dissatisfied customers. High rates of dissatisfaction indicate an issue in formulating the overall user story that was driving the feature request in the first place. You would want to focus efforts on better identifying the business needs at the onset of the project.
Delivering Rapid Innovation While Maintaining Quality
Software development is a constant battle between speed and quality. With continuous pressure from users for the “next thing,” it can be tempting to push more into production without looking at the overall impact.
However, this approach can cost your business more than you realize. Software development KPIs can help you understand your product’s overall health, the efficiency of your team, and the satisfaction of your users.