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2023 DORA State of DevOps Report Highlights Four Key Metrics, Reveals Importance of Code Reviews and Team Health

Madison Unell

By: Madison Unell
November 29, 2023

DORA blog

Google Cloud’s DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA) team’s 2023 Accelerate State of DevOps report examines the relationship between user-facing strategies, process enhancements, and culture and collaboration and its impact on engineering performance.

The DORA team re-emphasizes the importance of the four key DORA metrics, important benchmarks for gauging the speed and stability of an engineering organization. These metrics are a baseline for any engineering team looking to improve, and are a gateway for a more data-driven approach to engineering leadership. Pairing DORA metrics with other engineering metrics can unlock critical insights about a team’s performance.

However, the 2023 report makes significant strides in broadening out their approach to measurement. It recognizes that the four foundational metrics are an essential starting point, but also highlights additional opportunities for enhancing engineering performance. As teams continue on their data-driven journey, there are more dimensions of team health to explore, even in areas that don’t initially seem like they would lend themselves to measurement.

Two such areas highlighted in this year’s report are code review — an important window into a team’s ability to communicate and collaborate — and team culture.

Faster Code Reviews Accelerate Software Delivery

Notably, the report’s most significant finding indicates that accelerating the code review process can lead to a 50% improvement in software delivery performance. While many development teams are disappointed with their code review processes, they simultaneously recognize their importance. Effective code reviews foster collaboration, knowledge sharing, and quality control. And, according to the report, an extended time between code completion and review adversely affects developer efficiency and software quality.

At Code Climate, we’ve identified a few key strategies for establishing an effective code review process. First, it’s important for teams to agree on the objective of review. This ensures they know what type of feedback to provide, whether it’s comments pertaining to bug detection, code maintainability, or code style consistency.

It’s also important for leaders to create a culture that prioritizes code review. Ensure that your teams understand that in addition to ensuring quality, it also facilitates knowledge sharing and collaboration. Rather than working in a silo to ship code, developers work together and help each other. Outlining expectations — developers are expected to review others’ code, in addition to writing their own — and setting targets around code review metrics can help ensure it’s a priority.

Code Review Metrics

Leaders at smaller companies may be able to understand the workings of their code review process by talking to team members. However, leaders at enterprises with large or complex engineering teams can benefit from using a Software Engineering Intelligence (SEI) platform, like Code Climate Velocity, to act on DORA’s findings by digging into and improving their code review processes.

An SEI platform offers essential metrics like Review Speed, which tracks the time it takes from opening a pull request to the first review submission, and Time to First Review, which represents the average time between initiating a pull request and receiving the first review. These metrics can help leaders understand the way code is moving through the review process. Are PRs sitting around waiting for review? Are there certain members of the team who consistently and quickly pick PRs up for review?

Reviewing these metrics with the team can help leaders ensure that team members have the mindset — and time in their day — to prioritize code review, and determine whether the review load is balanced appropriately across the team. Review doesn’t have to be completely equally distributed, and it’s not uncommon for more senior team members to pick up a greater proportion of PRs for review, but it’s important to ensure that the review balance meets the team’s expectations.

A Note About Bottlenecks

The DORA report noted that even if code reviews are fast, teams are still unlikely to improve software delivery performance if speed is constrained in other processes. "Improvement work is never done,” the report advises, “find a bottleneck in your system, address it, and repeat the process."

Data from an SEI platform can help leaders continue the work of identifying and removing bottlenecks. Armed with the right information, they can enhance visibility and support informed decision-making, enabling them to detect bottlenecks in the software development pipeline and empower developers to collaborate on effective solutions. Equipped with the right data, leaders can validate assumptions, track changes over time, identify improvement opportunities upstream, scale successful processes, and assist individual engineers in overcoming challenges.

Fostering a Healthy Team Culture

Though the DORA team highlights the importance of effective processes, it also found that culture plays a pivotal role in shaping employee well-being and organizational performance. They found that cultivating a generative culture that emphasizes belonging drives a 30% rise in organizational performance. Additionally, addressing fair work distribution is crucial, as underrepresented groups and women face higher burnout rates due to repetitive work, underscoring the need for more inclusive work cultures. To retain talent, encourage innovation, and deliver more business value, engineering leaders must prioritize a healthy culture.

Just as they can provide visibility into processes, SEI platforms can give leaders insight into factors that shape team health, including leading indicators of burnout, psychological safety, and collaboration, and opportunities for professional development.

It’s fitting that the DORA report identifies code review as a process with a critical link to team performance – it’s a process, but it also provides insight into a team’s ability to collaborate. Metrics like Review Speed, Time to first Review, and Review Coverage, all send signals about a team’s attitude toward and facility with collaboration.

Other data can raise flags about team members who might be headed towards burnout. Velocity’s Coding Balance view, for example, highlights the percentage of the team responsible for 80% of a team’s significant work. If work is uneven — if 10% of the team is carrying 80% of the load — it can indicate that some team members are overburdened while others are not being adequately challenged.

Data is the Key to Acting on DORA Findings

The findings from the DORA report are clear: even those teams that are successfully using the four DORA metrics to improve performance should look at other dimensions as well. Prioritizing process improvements like code reviews and promoting a healthy team culture are instrumental to performance — and data can help leaders learn more about these aspects of their team. Speak to a Velocity specialist to find out more about using an SEI platform to action the 2023 DORA findings.

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