Measuring Productivity in Software Developers. A New Perspective.

Measuring productivity in software developers requires focusing on quality, business impact, and long-term value rather than traditional metrics.

Productivity in software development is a nuanced and often misunderstood concept. As knowledge workers, software developers contribute in ways that are not easily quantifiable using traditional metrics. The typical measures, such as lines of code written, number of pull requests (PRs) opened, or the amount of PRs reviewed, often fail to capture the true essence of productivity. This article delves into why these metrics are often meaningless and explores more effective ways to assess productivity in software development.

The Pitfalls of Traditional Metrics

Lines of Code

Measuring productivity by the number of lines of code written is a classic example of a flawed metric. More code does not necessarily mean better or more efficient software. In fact, more lines of code can often lead to more bugs and more maintenance work in the long run. As Peter Drucker aptly put it, “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” This applies perfectly to writing excessive or unnecessary code.

Pull Requests Opened

Counting the number of PRs opened can be equally misleading. A developer might open numerous PRs, but if these PRs are not contributing to meaningful progress or if they are frequently rejected or closed, they do not indicate real productivity. The quality and impact of the code changes are what truly matter, not just the quantity.

PRs Reviewed

Similarly, the number of PRs reviewed can be a poor indicator of productivity. Reviewing PRs is important, but without a deep understanding and thorough review process, this metric is hollow. A developer might be seen as highly productive for reviewing many PRs, but if these reviews are superficial, they may miss critical issues that could introduce bugs or inefficiencies into the codebase.

A Better Approach to Measuring Productivity

Quality Over Quantity

The key to measuring productivity in software development lies in focusing on the quality and impact of the work rather than the sheer amount of output. Cal Newport, in his book “Deep Work,” emphasizes the importance of depth over shallowness in productivity. This principle applies directly to software development, where the depth of understanding and quality of solutions far outweigh the volume of code produced.

Business Impact

Consider the following scenario: Developer A creates ten PRs that are merged into production but generate minimal feedback or impact. Developer B, on the other hand, delivers one well-thought-out feature that significantly enhances user experience or business value. According to traditional metrics, Developer A might appear more productive. However, from a business perspective, Developer B’s contribution is far more valuable.

To truly measure productivity, one must consider the business impact of a developer’s work. This includes factors like:

  • User Satisfaction: Are the features and fixes meeting user needs and improving their experience?
  • Business Growth: Is the work contributing to business growth, such as increased revenue or new customer acquisition?
  • Code Quality: Is the code maintainable, scalable, and free of critical bugs?

Long-Term Value

Another important aspect is the long-term value of the work. A developer who takes the time to understand the business and user needs can create solutions that provide ongoing value, rather than quick fixes that may need to be reworked later. This aligns with Drucker’s idea of doing the right things rather than just doing things right.

Incorporating Real-World Examples

To illustrate these points, let’s consider a practical example from the world of software development. Imagine two software engineers, Alice and Bob. Alice consistently delivers numerous PRs, which are merged with minimal feedback. On the surface, Alice seems highly productive. However, Bob takes a different approach. He spends more time understanding the business needs and user pain points, and as a result, he delivers fewer PRs. However, the features and improvements Bob implements lead to a significant increase in user engagement and a notable boost in revenue for the business.

In this scenario, traditional metrics would favor Alice, but a more meaningful assessment of productivity would highlight Bob’s contributions as far more impactful.


Measuring productivity in software development requires a shift from traditional metrics to more meaningful indicators of value and impact. By focusing on the quality of work, its business impact, and long-term value, we can better assess the true productivity of software developers. As knowledge workers, the goal should be to create valuable and impactful solutions rather than simply generating more output. Embracing this mindset will lead to more effective and meaningful contributions in the world of software development.


  1. Peter Drucker: “The Effective Executive”
  2. Cal Newport: “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World”

By rethinking how we measure productivity, we can foster a more effective and impactful approach to software development, benefiting both developers and the organizations they work for.