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How developers and managers define and trade productivity for quality

July 19, 2022

Background: Developer productivity and software quality are different but related multi-dimensional lenses into the software engineering process. The terms are used liberally in industry settings, but there is a lack of consensus and awareness of what these terms mean in specific contexts and which trade-offs should be considered.

Objective & Method: Through an exploratory survey study with developers and managers at Microsoft, we investigated how these cohorts define productivity and quality, how aligned they are in their views, how aware they are of other views, and if and how they trade quality for productivity.

Results: We find developers and managers, as cohorts, are not well-aligned in their views of productivity---developers think more about work activities, while more managers consider performance or quality outcomes. We find developers and managers have more aligned views of what quality means, with the majority defining quality in terms of robustness, while the timely delivery of evolvable features that delight users are also key quality aspects. Over half of the developers and managers we surveyed make productivity and quality trade-offs but with good reasons for doing so.

Conclusion: Alignment on how developers and managers define productivity and quality is essential if they are to design effective improvement interventions and meaningful metrics to measure productivity and quality improvements. Our research provides a frame for developers and managers to align their views and to make informed decisions on productivity and quality trade-offs.

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Margaret-Anne Storey
Brian Houck
Thomas Zimmermann

Margaret-Anne Storey is a professor of computer science at the University of Victoria and holds a Canada Research Chair in human and social aspects of software engineering. Her research focuses on improving processes, tools, communication, and collaboration in software engineering. She serves as chief scientist at DX and consults with Microsoft to improve developer productivity.

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