Thursday, February 04, 2010

Mistaking Efficiency for Productivity

(Continued from: Controlled Productivity)

When productivity starts to decrease and costs start to increase, we tend to panic. In that panic we often accidentally take measures that increase developer efficiency. In the process, we usually end up creating obstructions that decrease productivity.

Productivity that comes from the ability to control and observe is rooted in software design. Specifically, designs that make controlling and observing simple, clear, and very easy.

When productivity starts to fail, you will invariably find software that is difficult to control and observe. You can restore and sustain productivity by exercising controlling and observing. The very act of making your software more controllable will displace less productive designs with more productive designs.

Without connecting the effect of software development productivity to the cause of controlling and observing, you're likely to end up chasing efficiency rather than productivity, and exacerbating the productivity problems you are trying to solve. Most of what we believe about developer productivity has little effect on the ability for developers to control and observe their software. Most efforts for developer productivity end up increasing the pace at which developers create software that is beyond control.

Developer Efficiency

There's a downside to focusing on and increasing the efficiency of code production: it creates a discoordination between the production of code and everything else around it, like testing, operations, planning, and design. If you can increase the pace of not only coding, but also increase the pace of everything after it and before it at the same rate, productivity increases without risking the detrimental side effects of localized efficiency.

Inevitably, increasing the pace of coding without increasing the pace of the whole of software production creates in-process inventory. In-process inventory has even more deleterious effects: It creates rework. The time spent in rework is lost productivity. You're not producing new value when you're busy reworking stuff that is already supposed to be creating value. Decreased productivity creates more panic, and more panic often leads to more ill-fated efforts to rectify the problem by increasing developer efficiency.

If your wheels are spinning in mud, pressing harder on the accelerator doesn't free you from the problem, and it will likely just get you deeper entrenched in the problem. The material ejected from the hole that you're digging collects as in-process inventory. Not only do you not get anywhere, you loose ground.

It's not hard to remain in control of productivity. The trick is to know the difference, to remain calm in the face of panic, and to exercise control and observation until you've got software design under control. And ideally, try not to be distracted by elaborate tools promising productivity if in the end all they offer is a more efficient way to spin your wheels in the mud.

Don't panic. The first decision that comes to your mind when you panic in the face of decreasing productivity can lead to the temptation to displace productivity with efficiency. Don't increase the pace that you're loosing control of your software. Settle in and regain control. You'll restore the productivity you lost and find that there's even more to be had.

Of the developer productivity tools that you have adopted, have they noticeably increased the rate at which your organization makes money as a result? The pace that you can continue turn ideas into money is the definition of productivity that matters. If you focus on the pace that you produce code, you're looking at a part of the picture that is usually too narrow to be meaningfully thought of as productivity.

Next: Cause and Effect and Developer Productivity

Ampersand GT

Working with software developers and organizations to help realize the potential of software product development through higher productivity, higher quality, and improved customer experience

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