Recently, several of our clients have been interested in how they can make their engineers more efficient. The need for this usually arises when someone notices that they used to deliver much more when the team was smaller. This is a very common problem because as the teams grow larger more coordination is required and technical debt builds up.
Our first recommendation is to measure. As we’ve pointed out before in our post, Data Driven Decisions, without data you are just guessing at the solution. More importantly there is no way of knowing if you are improving anything unless you have the data. We recommend you collect data on where your engineers spend time and produce the following ratio:
actual engineering time spent on development (per time period) / available engineering time (per time period)
The numerator is how much time the engineers are spending building products. What gets taken out of this number are meetings not directly associated with development (design meetings are part of the development process), tasks such as building their environments, and firefighting such as production bug fixes. The denominator includes the average time available per that period. Typically, vacation time, holidays, etc are removed from this time. Once you’ve identified this ratio you have a good idea what tasks are taking away time from engineers actually building products. When our clients calculate this they often see ratios as low as 40%.
One of the largest culprits of reduced engineering efficiency are non-product development related meetings. A simple fix for this is to set aside 4 hr blocks of no-meeting time for engineers to work. We typically recommend 8am – noon as non-meeting, noon – 2pm for meetings, and then 2pm – TBD for non-meetings. This does two things, first it gives everyone time to get actual work done and secondly it forces people to prioritize meetings and limit who should attend since they all have to occur in a 2 hr window.
Start measuring your engineers efficiency and see what you can change to make it improve.