Report Finds Software Engineering Productivity Gains

An analysis of the time 23,000 software engineers spent working in 2021 that was published this week by Jellyfish, a provider of an engineering management platform (EMP), finds cycle times on average were down to 12.6 days, representing a 12.3% decline over 2020. The report, however, also finds commits were down 4% year-over-year, while the number of issues resolved was up 5% year over year.

Jellyfish CEO Andrew Lau said the data suggests that software engineers are opting to commit less code in favor of resolving issues faster. Overall, coding days per engineer were down 8% to less than 1.6 days per week in 2021, the report found.

Engineering teams on average in 2021 assigned 35% of their time to growth and innovation, while 19% was allocated to infrastructure work, up nearly 6% from 2020. Time spent on support work (24%), meanwhile, was down nearly 5% year over year. On average, unplanned work accounted for 22% of the time software engineers spent working in 2021, a 3% increase over the prior year. In general, Lau said the report suggests that engineering teams need to factor more time into schedules for unplanned work as application environments become more complex.

The report also finds engineering organizations using EMPs tend to allocate similar time to “keeping the lights on” and customer support activities as other organizations but spend 29% more time on innovation work and 48% less time on unplanned work. In addition, the report notes teams that devote 50% or more resources to growth and innovation work deliver software at least three times faster than those who commit 25% or less.

Virtual collaboration in the last year has also increased more than 20% as teams continue to embrace remote and hybrid work models, according to the report. Overall, organizations that allow software engineers to work from home remain productive but it’s not quite clear if managers have completely adjusted to the realities of hybrid work, noted Lau. The report also noted that pull request reviews per engineer are up 30% on average to 1.7 reviews per week. Pull review comments per engineer were up 23% year over year.

In addition to the report, Jellyfish conducted a survey of 128 engineering leaders that finds more than 79% expect to grow their teams in 2022, with 57% expecting more than 10% headcount growth. Improving operations, tooling and processes (36%) is their highest priority in 2022, followed by hiring and retaining talent (18%), improving infrastructure (17%) and managing technical debt (10%). The biggest overall challenge is making sure everyone is focused on the highest priority work (45%), the survey finds.

However, only 27% of the leaders currently track productivity metrics, despite more than two-thirds (67%) describing them as being very important or critical to track. Among teams that do track metrics, more than half (53%) do so manually, the survey finds.

While the productivity of software engineers will naturally vary by organization, it’s apparent the weight of application environments is starting to impact how much time can be devoted to building and deploying new applications. The challenge, of course, is demand for new applications in the age of digital transformation has never been higher, which in part explains why so many organizations are struggling to find and retain software engineers.

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