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Building a software development process with maximum business impact

Building a software development process with maximum business impact

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Jeff Keyes, VP of Product at Plutora, discusses how and why businesses should implement flow metrics into their software development to improve visibility and lower software production costs.

Across organisations the world over, bringing new and updated software to market quickly and effectively is a mission-critical priority. Measuring the effectiveness of the development process holds the key to meeting cost and timeline objectives, and IT teams collect a range of metrics to focus on technical and business-centric goals.

In working to create an efficient development process, there’s no doubt that collecting and analysing data and metrics are important pieces of the jigsaw. However, looking at projects on a macro level to measure total production workflows is often missing from a wider, holistic assessment. As a result, development teams frequently fail to see bottlenecks and inefficiencies across the value stream, impacting production and negatively impacting business outcomes.

To recap, value streams are everything required in the software delivery life cycle – from initial ideas to production and rollout – that contribute to the delivery of software products or services to customers. By definition, they focus on the importance of customer value as the cornerstone of software product development – an objective which is vital in today’s fast-paced digital economy.

In this context, effective project management and optimal DevOps workflows rely on complete visibility across the entire value chain. The most effective way to provide that granular insight is by analysing flow metrics.

Closing the gap between business and tech teams

Put simply, flow metrics reveal the rate of value delivery in relation to desired business outcomes. It’s an approach that allows businesses to view production from an informed perspective, improving decision-making. In addition, flow metrics can also provide a historical analysis of performance over time, something that is particularly useful for teams that are focused on continuous improvement.

In practical terms, flow metric analysis is increasingly popular among IT leaders who want to close the gap between technology and business teams. Employing flow metrics can reveal a variety of mission-critical development issues, such as why projects take so long, how to address prioritisation challenges and the impact of technical debt.

Flow metrics enables teams to measure specific flow items – or individual work units – that clients or product teams share with their business and software development counterparts. These can include a wide variety of requests, from a new feature in a piece of software, alerts about security vulnerabilities, or information about a bug that needs to be fixed.

Getting into the flow

There are five flow metrics that teams should be analysing throughout their development process. 

1. Throughput

Firstly, throughput measures the total number of flow items completed over a set amount of time. By measuring flow velocity, it becomes possible to determine the total amount of value delivered during a particular project. This is important because maximising throughput leads to happier customers and improved end-user experiences, which plays a huge role in driving both revenue and growth.

Typically, throughput is usually measured on a week-by-week basis, but by also analysing it over a longer term, historical basis, teams can also understand how and why conflicting priorities can impact overall value.

2. Cycle time

Cycle time focuses on the speed at which a team delivers value. This involves measuring the amount of time it takes for flow items to move from work start to work complete, taking into account active and wait times.

Cycle time is just as important for driving growth and revenue as throughput because it makes it easier to provide project estimates and allocate resources and can result in tighter workflows and improved efficiency.

3. Flow efficiency

Speaking of efficiency, flow efficiency is the ratio of active time to wait time, revealing where bottlenecks are occurring and whether process waste is increasing or decreasing. Ideally, teams should strive to have a flow efficiency rate exceeding 15%.

It’s perhaps unsurprising to note that waiting accounts for most cycle time, which in turn can create bottlenecks and add to production costs, but by measuring flow efficiency, teams can identify when workflows are taking too long and take steps to speed up individual processes. 

4. Work in progress

Work in progress is all about measuring demand. To do this, teams need to understand the number of flow items that are in active development or waiting within a value stream. Measuring work in progress can help leaders determine if value streams are over or underutilised. 

In particular, this process helps team leaders understand how specific employees are being utilised. By understanding the load being placed on each individual alongside their potential output, managers can strategically manage workloads and boost quality where needed. This can deliver significant benefits by reducing the risk of burnout and turnover, while also minimising development mistakes that require correction. 

5. Work profile

Measuring work profile can enable teams to focus on priority alignment. It’s measured as a ratio of the four other flow items completed during a certain period of time. Analysing work profile ensures that quality and productivity remain at optimal levels, improving CX and helping to maximise customer retention.

Analysing these key flow metrics can play a major role in helping organisations to more effectively align their business and software development goals. With the right tools in place, teams can understand the impact of each key component to improve communication and agility. In doing so, organisations can act on the intelligence the process delivers to ensure better business outcomes.

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