Enhancing developer experience (DX) is essential for companies to attract and retain top talent, foster innovation, and drive product excellence in a highly competitive tech landscape. At OfferZen, we’re using qualitative developer experience data to drive engineering performance. This is how we do it.
What is developer experience and why is it important?
As scaling product-led companies, we regularly make value-delivery trade-offs between impact and effort. The challenge with this paradigm is that in the pursuit of objective excellence, we often sacrifice our humanness and cause our people to suffer. This is usually a precursor to developer disengagement, missed deadlines and a reduction in the quality of code being shipped to production in record time. This is why an acute focus on developer experience (DX) is necessary, now more than ever before.
Think of DX as the user-friendly pathway, enabling developers to effortlessly and efficiently create and maintain robust software products with joy and ease. It also enables us as technical leaders to focus our efforts so that we are better able to serve our developers through:
- Reducing the cognitive load they experience in their day-to-day activities,
- Improving their ability to do deep and meaningful work, and
- Shortening the feedback loops between those activities.
Looking at the above graph, we have been able to nearly double our throughput since 2022. In combination with other more operationally focussed management strategies, leaning into DX has enabled OfferZen to improve developer productivity without having to throw the proverbial baby (engagement and culture) out with the bathwater. But what does this look like in practice?
SPACE: The path to productivity at OfferZen
In Q2 of 2022, OfferZen set a goal to decouple our application architecture for improved product velocity. Not only did we as engineering teams have to rapidly deliver value to our customers, but we also had to address the frustrations that our own developers experienced interacting with legacy code, the complexity of an ever-evolving (and now decoupled) development environment, and the psycho-social demands of their work and personal lives.
We opted for a holistic response to the challenge that focuses on creating clarity and tangible measurement for improved productivity. Enter the SPACE framework.
SPACE is an acronym used to describe and understand the focus areas for the improvement of developer productivity:
- Satisfaction & well-being: How fulfilled developers are with their work, team, tools, and culture, and how happy and healthy they are.
- Performance: Developers’ perceptions on the outcomes of their individual contributions to the success of OfferZen.
- Activities: How the actions of developers affect overall productivity, engineering systems, and team efficiency.
- Communication and collaboration: How well people and teams communicate and work together, as well as how information flows within and across teams.
- Efficiency and flow: How we can empower developers to complete work or make progress with minimal interruptions or delays.
OfferZen is leveraging the SPACE framework as a base for understanding our overall developer experience and each developer’s perceptions about their productivity. Together with our processes for capturing feedback, this forms our DX toolbox, which we often turn to for insights about how we can better support and enable our developers to do their best work.
The DX toolbox: Tried and tested
Quantitative metrics - like cycle time, wait time, throughput, etc - are highly valuable. However, they only tell an objective half-truth that could be better augmented with more qualitative metrics - like developer net promoter score (NPS), perceived ease of delivering software, and deployment pain to name a few.
Feedback in this area guides us to understand the context within which we’re improving our systems and processes and affords us the opportunity to respond in a way that is meaningful and valuable to our developers. Let’s dive into how we’re adding SPACE and improving the DX in our daily practices.
By actively listening to our developers and addressing their pain points, we continuously improve our tools and processes to enhance their experience and overall productivity.
In order to do this, we have implemented an automated process to capture valuable feedback from developers in the very tools they utilise daily. When developers encounter pain points, such as slow Continuous Integration (CI) pipelines or lengthy test runtimes, they have access to a convenient Slack bot that allows them to share their feedback with minimal interruption. This Slack bot syncs their feedback to our dedicated feedback portal in Notion, where we gather, collate, and categorise the input.
By analysing and grouping this intelligence, we gain insights into the areas where developers face the most challenges. This invaluable information serves as a guide for prioritising our efforts and determining which areas require our immediate attention.
The developer survey
Every quarter, we conduct a developer productivity survey to gain a deep understanding of the developer experience. This serves as an opportunity for us to gather unique insights and identify areas for improvement as an engineering organisation. Drawing from the SPACE framework, we segment feedback from developers into the following areas:
- Developer satisfaction
- Learning opportunities
- Product quality and service health
- Impact and fulfilment
- Design and coding activities
- Continuous integration and development
- Operational activities (such as support)
- Documentation discovery and access to expertise
- Ease of code reviews
- Ease of onboarding
- The ability to get into a state of flow
- Developer efficiency - access to tools and resources to get tasks done
Bonus: Check out the questions we use and the format of our quarterly survey here.
Using this toolbox, we’ve been able to identify and address concerns like long build times, pain in developer testing environments, and an excessive need to refactor legacy code. The results from this survey have also enabled us to motivate for the resolution of technical debt (what we now refer to as risk and scale work) and the provision of additional infrastructure and tooling - like Datadog CI and testing visibility.
As you can see from the graph above, our build times have decreased thanks to addressing the developers’ concerns highlighted within the quarterly survey and our metrics dashboards on DataDog.
Tip: Our developers expressed that they prefer shorter, more frequent surveys. Check in with your developers about how (and how often) you could receive the best feedback from them.
To better understand and improve the developer experience, we regularly conduct catch-ups with our internal developers to capture their feedback.
During these catch-ups, we delve into their journey, starting from requirements gathering, design and planning, all the way through to implementation, testing, release, and maintenance and support phases.
By understanding their entire journey, we gain insights into the pain points they encounter along the way. We also make it a point to share any relevant context or advancements that address these pain points or feedback and keep them informed.
Additionally, we discuss activities that are unique to their team and immediate environment, aiming to identify trends and uncover specific challenges they may face.
Lastly, we encourage developers to share which tools, processes and practices they believe would enable them to do their best work (a wishlist of sorts). This helps us understand their desires and what would make their contribution more fulfilling.
Bonus: Check out the framework that we use to facilitate these DX catch-ups here.
Built for teams by teams
Encouraging teams to take control of their daily practices and providing them with a stage to share their learnings are crucial for improving DX.
Take, for example, the way teams approach delivery. When developers experiment with different cadences for their work sprints (or do away with sprints altogether), they are able to deliver value more effectively in a way that best suits them, with the added benefit of improved morale.
At OfferZen, we conduct regular engineering sync-ups, where teams discuss their advancements, experiments and the tradeoffs they’ve made. While each team operates differently, this does still open a dialogue that helps everyone learn from each other and discover new ways to improve their work processes. By creating opportunities for teams to explore and facilitating communication, we create a culture of continuous learning and improvement that benefits the OfferZen engineering organisation as a whole.
This collaborative approach allows us to align our efforts with their needs, provide effective solutions, and foster a developer-centric environment.
The future of developer productivity
DX is a relatively new concept and is evolving every day. We use the toolbox outlined above to consistently seek feedback on how we can improve practices, processes, and tools that give our developers a voice. This enables an environment that drives productivity in the service of our people and our customers. A focus on DX helps our engineering teams create leverage for OfferZen, improves our rate of innovation, and helps us attract, retain and better serve the best engineering talent.
Kyle Gani is a seasoned Technical Product Manager at OfferZen, hailing from Hermanus, South Africa. With a diverse background encompassing roles as a designer, developer, product owner, and product manager, Kyle’s creativity shines through in his passion for building high-performing engineering teams, leading technical strategy and working with other creatives to build innovative products.
When he’s not driving product excellence through empathy, you’ll find Kyle embracing the outdoors, catching a wave, exploring the mountains with his two dogs and cherishing moments with friends and family. His expertise and enthusiasm make him a driving force in the world of technology and product development.
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