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RDEL #17: How does your engineering team type indicate team performance?
In the first post of our monthly review on the 2023 DORA report, we look at how four different categories of engineering teams perform on key performance benchmarks.
Hello and welcome to RDEL - each week, we pose an interesting topic in engineering leadership, and apply the latest research in the field to drive to an answer. 👋
🎉 It’s November, which means the 2023 State of DevOps report has been published! Throughout this month, we’ll be asking questions that are highlighted in the DORA report’s research findings. Massive thanks to the researchers at Google for their commitment to understanding and measuring high-performing technology-driven organizations.
Note: this month-long series contains a sample of the report that we found most useful to our readers. To dive deeper into the data, take a look at the full report.
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The DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA) team focuses on understanding the relationship between capabilities and outcomes. For almost a decade, the DORA team has assembled and analyzed data from over 36,000 professionals. The team is most famously-known for their four famous “DORA Metrics”, which are:
Deployment frequency: how frequently changes are pushed to production
Change lead time: how long it takes a change to go from committed to deployed
Change failure rate: how frequently a deployment introduces a failure that requires immediate intervention
Failed deployment recovery time: how long it takes to recover from a failed deployment
The annual DORA report is a rich analysis of what factors contribute to high-performing engineering teams, and what actions teams can achieve great outcomes. In 2023, researchers focused on organizational performance, team performance, and employee well-being.
This year, as the researchers were analyzing data on various performance benchmarks in the industry, they identified an interesting pattern: teams behave differently on performance benchmarks depending on certain core characteristics of the team. Intuitively, this makes sense: for example, an early-stage startup is less likely to focus on operational performance than a massive enterprise. But what are those benchmarks, and how do different types of teams perform against those benchmarks?
“Teams that focus on the needs of users build the right thing AND build the thing right” - Excerpt from the 2023 DORA report
Researchers looked at the average performance of teams on software delivery performance, operational performance, and user-centricity. A cluster analysis found that there are four “types” of teams that emerge, and they trend differently on these three key performance indicators. We’ll first define the three key performance indicators, and then highlight the four types of teams and the performance patterns they show.
Three performance benchmarks:
1️⃣ Software delivery performance:
These are the famed “DORA Metrics” (defined above), which are used to assess software delivery performance.
The 2023 benchmarks for the different metrics are available below:
2️⃣ Operational performance:
This refers to both reliability practices and reliability outcomes - that is, how a service meets its goals for measures like availability, performance, and correctness. Research shows that improved operational performance leads to better team performance and organizational performance.
3️⃣ User centricity:
User-centric applications are built with the end user in mind. This means teams have a good sense of what users need and incorporate it into the roadmap.
Four team types:
Based on the results of how teams performed on these performance indicators, researchers identified four different team types - user-centric, feature-driven, developing, and balanced.
Here are how the four team types perform on the different performance indicators we highlighted above.
The three performance indicators discussed above can be seen as “dials” for improving team outcomes. The graphs below show the different performance outcomes predicted by each type team:
Teams are ever-evolving, which is why we love that the DORA report looks at predicted outcomes based on team types. There is no right or wrong way to build a team, but there are some common performance characteristics of each team type:
1️⃣ User-centric team: a team that is heavily focused on delivering user needs. They tend to have a high sense of impact and tie outcomes directly to business value
Pros: High organizational performance, team performance, and job satisfaction.
Cons: Can be prone to burnout.
How to improve: To avoid burnout, keep improving both software delivery performance and operational performance to reduce bottlenecks in delivering high-quality software.
2️⃣ Feature-driven team: a team that prioritizes shipping features above all else. While many features do get built, the relentless focus on shipping might distract the team from meeting their users’ needs.
Pros: High software delivery performance
Cons: Low user-centricity, job satisfaction, and overall performance. High risk of burnout.
How to improve: As the researchers say, “Employees value delivering value, not just features”. Give the team opportunities to build empathy for the end user to get more value out of the features being shipped.
3️⃣ Developing team: a team that is likely still looking for product-market fit or hasn’t fully matured. These teams are frequently found in smaller companies, and have more heavyweight processes or toilsome tasks that haven’t been prioritizes over achieving product goals.
Pros: High organizational performance and higher user centricity. Overall team performance also trends higher.
Cons: Low software delivery performance and operational performance. Burnout is at highest risk in this team type.
How to improve: Introduce automation to improve software delivery performance and operational performance. Done well, these changes will allow developing teams to move faster on delivering customer value.
4️⃣ Balanced team: a team that has - you guessed it - balance in how they operate. They use technology in a sustainable way to enable good operational performance, team performance, and job satisfaction. This type of team is the most well-rounded.
Pros: lowest rate of burnout, enables a sustainable and enduring team
Cons: Limited, but can sometimes have lower organizational performance
How to improve: Increase user-centricity by bringing this team closer to their user base.
There is no single “right” type of team, as it depends on the company maturity and business objectives. The areas of improvement for one team may be different from other teams - this is why there is no single metric that tracks all engineering productivity, and an overemphasis on just one area (i.e only looking at DORA metrics) may limit your team’s ability to improve.
I hope you this guide to help understand where your team may fall, and the areas of opportunities to improve overall team productivity. Happy Research Monday! 🎉
From the Quotient team