• 5 min read

Navigating the SPACE between productivity and developer happiness

To reflect our renewed focus on the overall developer experience, we are excited to share that we are rebranding Developer Velocity Lab to Developer Experience Lab.

Early in my career, I worked as a developer and system administrator. I loved my teams and projects and noticed that many of the things engineers talked about when we were really getting work done (“being productive”) just didn’t make it to the weekly or monthly reports our management seemed to care about. For example, the reports only captured a few things, like the tests we had executed in burndown charts and the number of bugs closed. And while those things were important, they missed the rest of the important work we did that really contributed to our projects shipping and our systems staying online, like being able to focus, working well with teams, and solving hard problems. To reflect our renewed focus on the overall developer experience, I am excited to share that we are rebranding Developer Velocity Lab to Developer Experience Lab. And that’s just the start.

The SPACE framework and new joint research with Vista Equity Partners to help developers

Metrics that only look at activities, or purely focus on speed and volume don’t capture the important capabilities required to make a project successful. They also miss the ways that tools, culture, and processes intersect to help or hinder the code’s journey to the customer. I realized that by focusing on output instead of outcomes, organizations were only getting a partial view of what it means to make an impact building systems and software; this is truer today than ever before with increasingly complex systems and changing market and customer demands.

This led me to a line of research that became my first book, Accelerate: the Science of Lean Software and DevOps. Exploring these ideas further with Microsoft and GitHub, we released the SPACE framework, which presents a holistic framework to evaluate developer productivity using five dimensions: Satisfaction, Performance, Activity, Communication, and Efficiency. We also investigated ways to help developers have better days more consistently and found the developer experience is a central factor in not only personal productivity, but also well-being and satisfaction; the Good Day Project shares our findings and continues to influence teams and projects.

Today, Microsoft and GitHub are expanding this vision by applying our research to help build tools and environments that help developers do what they do best: create. As part of this effort, we’re announcing new research with Vista Equity Partners, a leading global asset manager with more than two decades of experience investing exclusively in enterprise software, data, and technology-enabled organizations. 

Beyond velocity: A holistic way to understand software developers

Productivity in the software world can’t be boiled down to lines of code written, commits made, or pull requests completed. Often, fewer lines of elegant, easy-to-read code are better than large, complex blocks.

There is much more to developers’ work than just writing code, too. Developers contribute to the success of their teams by doing work that doesn’t show up in traditionally-measured activity metrics. For example, there are stand-up meetings and collaborations that help a software project stay on course, we contribute to project docs and architectural diagrams, and there are times you just grab coffee to mentor or stop by to help debug some code. How do we fold these intangibles into the productivity discussion?

We also know there’s a strong correlation between process efficiency and job satisfaction. Streamlining tasks and processes can help facilitate developers’ abilities to find their flow state and string together those good, productive days.

By shifting the name of Microsoft and GitHub’s joint research lab from the Developer Velocity Lab to the Developer Experience Lab, we’re putting developers and their experience at the center of this discussion and focusing on a holistic approach that considers the individual, organizational, and community outcomes that really matter. The SPACE framework was developed to make sense of this complexity; beyond that, the SPACE framework gives us a multi-dimensional blueprint for creating fulfilling experiences that recognize support developer happiness and well-being are key components of work and productivity.

The new Developer Experience Lab

The goals for our work at Microsoft and GitHub through the Developer Experience Lab are to remove friction in the developer experience, advance DevOps practices, and resolve the technical and real-world inefficiencies that keep code from reaching the cloud.

As part of that, this week we’re announcing new research with Vista Equity Partners that provides a deeper look into what developers want and need.

As expected, our research found that the capabilities and user experience of development tools play a huge role in developers’ ability to focus and innovate—and the importance of tools goes beyond just providing a place to code. Over the past few years, remote and hybrid work has become the norm, and developers rely on their tools to facilitate the collaboration, connection, and work processes that are so critical to building software. 

Findings like these are guiding how we think about supporting developers in the field. The Developer Experience Lab is connecting what we’re learning about developer happiness to our policy guidance and to Microsoft’s next generation of developer tools, including some groundbreaking work with AI.

AI as your copilot

Along with the monumental shift to hybrid work, AI is making headlines across industries. We’re already seeing its impact on software development, and we’re imagining ways to pair AI tools with human programmers to amplify developers’ abilities and help spark innovation.

To this end, we’ve developed and released GitHub Copilot, an AI assistant across GitHub apps. As the name implies, Github Copilot is a tool that works alongside people to augment and assist their work. For developers, that means handling tasks that would typically cause an interruption, such as locating a code library, building repetitive infrastructure, or spotting bugs. Native GitHub Copilot integrations simplify everything from pull requests to code reviews, and they’re delivered through an engaging, streamlined interface.

Looking ahead, we’re also thinking about how we can use AI to help organizations evaluate their level of skill, productivity, and developer happiness within the context of SPACE. By helping organizations find the most useful metrics for their environment and applying advanced analytics, we can make it easier for them to optimize processes and engage with developers.

Developers, too, have long found value in tracking their own productivity, both to assess their own skills and methodologies, and to improve collaboration. We’ll continue to innovate here as well, exploring how to deliver high-value insights so developers can get the most of out their days.

Providing the right experience to build better code

As the demand for software innovation continues to boom, there is increasing pressure on developers tasked with building the future. Studying their complex world of code, products, policies, communities, and culture is a passion of mine.

I’m excited to be a researcher here at Microsoft, where we can reimagine and research the future of the developer experience. The Developer Experience Lab team is a group of experts from a variety of backgrounds conducting socio-technical research. This allows us to ask deep, interesting questions about the developer experience and how to best enable it, and then amplify those findings through new tools, technologies, and best practices.

Learn more about the Developer Experience Lab

We are still in the early stages of this journey, and we hope you’ll join us on the ride. You can stay up to date on everything we’re working on at Developer Experience Lab.