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Software Engineering

5 Facts About Developer Productivity Every Product Leader Needs to Know

For software developers and engineers, it’s essential to get in the ‘coding zone.’ When most of us were working in the office, a pair of big over-ear headphones and a hood up on a SaaS-branded hoodie were one of many clear visual indicators that a developer was zeroed-in. In today’s hybrid and remote world, “maker time” Slack statuses and snoozed notifications are the equivalent.

Product leaders, like product owners and product managers–or at least the wise ones– know that this focus time is invaluable to developers. Not only because it boosts productivity, but it also directly correlates with job happiness and satisfaction. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never talked to a developer who’s said they’re happy to spend more time in meetings than coding.

To our surprise, when surveying over 250 developers about their productivity habits, the results showed that they aren’t spending as much time coding as they would like – and it’s not their fault. This blog will walk through the key findings from this developer productivity metrics survey and delve into the reasoning behind the results.

Survey methodology: This software developer productivity survey was conducted by Zenhub to gain a better understanding of developer productivity habits. We surveyed 252 developers from January to February 2022.

The TLDR: An overview of our developer productivity statistics & survey findings

Since we know you want the good stuff, here’s a summary of our key findings from this survey:

  • Just under half of all software developers spend less than 20 hours a week actually coding (half the typical full-time work schedule!). Yikes!
  • Most developers consider themselves to be as or more productive than pre-pandemic productivity levels. Are we really surprised?
  • Despite working in mainly remote or hybrid environments, developers feel their relationships with coworkers are strong. We love to see it!
  • Over half of developers spend over four hours in meetings each week. Can we do better?
  • Collaboration apps, like Slack, are the biggest time-suckers from actual maker time. Is this a good thing?

5 key facts about developer productivity

Now that we’ve given you a taste of what’s to come, read on to dive deeper into these findings, the data, and what this means for your software development team.

1. About half of all developers spend less than 20 hours per week on software dev work

Yep, you read that right. It gets even more shocking when you consider that only about a mere 30% of the developers we surveyed spend 25 hours or more on software development tasks.

46 percent of developers spend less than 20 hours on dev tasks

When developer productivity and focus time matter to product leaders and developers alike, it’s crucial to understand the root of this issue. Earlier this year, we conducted an additional developer survey to learn more about productivity, and here’s what some developers had to say about their biggest challenges.

One developer shared that interruptions make staying in the flow difficult, “Interruptions are the biggest challenge. Context switching from one topic to the other makes it challenging to provide the best time to resolution.”

While another cited poor ticket writing and acceptance criteria as a key part of the problem, “One challenge is understanding the assignment. Some BA’s are better at creating requirements than others. There are often not enough details, or the requirements are unclear, and we begin work anyway. If something was not completed as expected, then additional changes are needed, which may push another project aside.”

Another developer confirms this challenge, adding that it may be related to bad agile practices, “The biggest challenge I face to my overall productivity is a poor understanding and practice of Agile methodologies by the business and stakeholders. Stories are horribly written and ill-defined. Velocity and capacity are completely ignored, and so sprints become overly packed with stories that are impossible to complete.”

Another common theme we saw is too many meetings, so let’s hop into the next data point and explore the impact meetings have on developer productivity.

2. 71% of developers spend less than 5 hours in meetings per week, but that’s not the full story

Developers don’t love meetings. We all know it. But really, who loves meetings? Especially when they could have been conducted pretty much any other way that doesn’t require blocking off the calendar and staring at a webcam (*cough* Slack *cough* video message *cough* email.)

We were surprised to see that 71% of the surveyed developers spend less than five hours in meetings per week. That doesn’t sound too bad, right?

71 percent of developers spend less than 5 hours in meetings per week

Well, kind of. But that’s not the full picture. While most developers spend a reasonable amount of cumulative time in meetings, it’s not the amount of time that’s the problem. It’s having the meetings broken up throughout the day and, as a result, interrupting long periods of focus time.

Here are some more real quotes from developers on why this is, well, annoying.

One developer said, “Even though they don’t add up to so many hours, they tend to be really short at my company (15 – 30 min meetings). Three of those at different points of a day can be disruptive.”

Another developer shared, “Interruptions during the workday are a big problem for coding productivity. I often find myself coding in the evening because then all the meetings are over.”

“The biggest challenges are all related to not getting focused, uninterrupted time, really. Examples of challenges would include lots of “quick” catch-ups which add up even if each one is quick-ish, and lots of all-member meetings just to stay connected or feel connected,” shares another developer.

Moral of the story for better software development team management? Limit meetings with developers, provide an agenda in advance, and time block meetings into an agreed-upon time instead of spreading them throughout the day.

3. 80% of developers prefer remote work

Of the 250 developers we surveyed, 80% of them answered that they’d either like to work fully remote or mostly remote. Returning to the topic of the consequences of interruptions, it’s not surprising that having more control over their work environment and who can enter their personal work bubble is favorable to developers.

And the data backs this up. We asked what developers think the impact of remote work has on their productivity. 28% said remote work has a very positive effect on their productivity, and 34% said it has a positive impact. This means 62% of developers believe that remote work has a direct positive impact on developer productivity.

62 percent of devs believe remote work has a positive impact on productivity

What’s the takeaway on this for better managing a software development team? Don’t force your team members back into the office. Understand that everyone has different working style preferences and stances on where they feel most productive. If you trust your devs to code your product, you should trust them to work from wherever they please, really.

4. Over 80% of developers consider themselves to have a great relationship with their teammates

Even though nearly all of the respondents to our developer productivity survey indicated they work at least partially remote, an astounding 82% also said their relationships with their coworkers are positive. If you weren’t convinced that remote work is effective in building trustworthy working relationships and meaningful connections, here’s concrete evidence from developers themselves that remote work is working for them.

More than 80 percent of developers have a "quite good" or "very good" relationship with their team

How are developers creating meaningful connections in the remote world? Our guess, according to our data, is in collaboration apps. Let’s explore this in the next section.

5. Developers spend the majority of their non-coding time using collaboration apps

We already discussed that developers have too many meetings spread throughout the day but don’t necessarily spend a large sum of hours in meetings. So the question is, what exactly is sucking developers’ time away?

Is it providing status updates? Not likely the biggest culprit. About half of developers only spend one hour or less per week providing status updates.

What about being blocked and waiting for feedback? Possibly. A small number of developers spend 5+ hours blocked, but nearly 70% spend less than 2 hours blocked each week.

Surely it has to be email – the root of all evil. But no, nearly 60% of developers only spend 1 hour or less on email each week.

Graphs of the amount of time that developers spend on providing status updates, waiting for feedback, and sending and reading emails.

That leaves us with, you guessed it, collaboration apps. Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Chat, and other platforms in that family account for most developer time spent on non-coding activities. Almost 50% of developers spend five hours or more in collaboration apps each week.

45% of developers spend 5 or more hours in collaboration apps each week

Now, developers aren’t necessarily slackin’ on Slack. These collaboration apps have become work ‘hubs’ in the remote world. And we’d venture to guess that the high usage of these platforms is directly linked to developers feeling like they have connected relationships with their colleagues. In-person connections, like high fiving on the way to the espresso machine, have been replaced by #dog-photos Slack channels and customized emojis of your boss.

While collaboration apps can be a tad distracting and require a level of mindfulness to ensure they’re not killing productivity, we believe these are a central part of today’s workplace culture and are helping more than they’re harmful.

What does this look like on your team?

It’s great to know where your team might lose productivity, but it can be tough to quantify the impact. That’s why we built our Dev Productivity ROI Calculator. This tool helps you measure developer productivity and lets you know how much the inefficiencies cost you.

What does this mean for product leaders improving software development team management?

At the core of every great leader is empathy. Product leaders often have to lead without direct authority, so understanding the complexities developers face when it comes to productivity can help you identify common roadblocks and disruptions. This can help you better advocate for your devs and technical team members, creating a more positive and productive work environment.

If you’re curious to learn more about the software teams, check out our report: 2022 State of Disruptive Software Teams.


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