In 2018 researchers at Microsoft teamed up with researchers from the IEEE to assess what exactly a good workday looks like for a software developer. Previous researchers had shown the links between job satisfaction and productivity and high-performing products; the researchers from Microsoft and the IEEE were interested in learning what activities make up a good workday.
DevOps and Developer Experience tooling has been narrowly focused on solving challenges and inefficiencies in the stack - the time developers spend writing, reading, testing, deploying, and maintaining the code. There is little doubt that developers have gained value from using these well-designed products. However, after surveying nearly 6000 Microsoft developers over four months, the researchers found that this narrow focus misses opportunities for improving the average developer day.
Even on good days a developer only spends half their day developing code. Collaboration and other activities - meetings, mentoring, interruptions, learning, and administrative tasks make up the other half. For a typical Microsoft developer, on a typical day, in 2018 these activities accounted for an average of 52% of their workday - this is what we at Edify call the Developer Enablement Gap.
My colleague Mark Birch recently illustrated these activities another way, building on Tanya Reilly’s original classification of “glue work”, Mark argues this work is “the adhesive that is keeping engineering teams from completely falling apart in chaos.”
When intentionally and strategically executed the activities of Developer Enablement provide engineering organizations with alignment, reduce negative friction and disruption, and drive productivity and product success.
Every developer has non-coding tasks. In their analysis the Microsoft researchers noted that the best developer days balance coding with non-coding work. Work performance metrics centered on code favor employees that ignore non-coding tasks, leaving the glue work disproportionately distributed throughout the team. In this scenario each manager, tech lead, or willing volunteer is left to implement their own processes and norms, and internal documentation quickly goes stale.
It’s different for an Enabled team:
- Productive work is redefined and developers are credited for their full contributions
- Onboarding and continuous learning are prioritized with human-centered automation to reduce repeatable workflows
- Expertise and documentation are discoverable and kept up to date
- Needless interruptions are reduced and collaboration is meaningful and context-driven
- There is a shared understanding of goals, working norms, and process
- Organizations are able to plan for hiring and workforce shifts as priorities change
- Retention is high and developers express satisfaction with their work
We’ve seen it many times before, companies with a Developer Enablement Gap fail to achieve organizational alignment hampering growth, missing deadlines, and making change difficult and slow. Companies that make Developer Enablement a strategic priority are able to quickly grow and scale and meet product goals.