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Data-driven leadership – Goodbye pointless KPIs, hello meaningful metrics

It goes without saying that every business strives for continual improvement and efficiency gains. From upskilling members of staff to reducing waste and overheads, there are a number of different ways in which these two ideals can be achieved.

But how do you know whether the initiatives or processes you put in place truly work?

For many, it’s all about KPIs – indisputable metrics to evaluate whether you’re on the right track or not. By establishing KPIs you should benefit from quantifiable results, an alignment towards common goals, incentives for personal performance, and a platform from which to build future strategies.

However, that doesn’t mean to say KPIs are totally infallible or completely flawless. In fact, good KPIs that measure success AND provide added value to the entire organisation can be extremely difficult to find.

This is especially true of web and mobile development. A lot of the time, the only metrics available are commits, lines of code, and velocity. Not only are these metrics difficult to compare (even against the same person), they’re also easily disputed and often argued against.

As a result, identifying and measuring efficiency gains is extremely time consuming and can put a limit on continual improvement efforts.

Therefore, we recently decided to launch a new initiative – data-driven leadership – with the hope of unearthing useful and effective metrics for our web and mobile development teams.

What is data-driven leadership?

Data-driven leadership is a way for us to continually improve and achieve efficiency gains with metrics we already have in our possession.

By utilising existing tools regarding team activity and performance, we can benchmark ourselves against other industry leaders and establish measurable goals to work towards.  

Achieving these goals will help our team improve their efficiency beyond current efforts, ultimately giving each and every customer better digital products and experiences.

Daniel Streader, Head of Development, Transpire.

How could we benefit from data-driven leadership?

Aside from continual improvement and efficiency gains, data-driven leadership also provides us with the potential to:

  • Share and celebrate our success – It can often be difficult finding ways to communicate our success, especially among customers when improvements or gains have happened internally. But data-driven leadership represents an opportunity to showcase the great work we do, as well as any favourable outcomes and positive results.
  • Give everyone greater confidence– Along with giving our customers greater confidence by describing the ways in which we continually improve efficiency, data-driven leadership can also support our own team and their individual efforts, especially new hires.
  • Reduce resourcing requirements – Our data-driven leadership initiative is based on weekly reports and daily spot checks. This can prevent small problems from becoming larger thanks to earlier interventions, thus reducing the workload of both development team leaders and project managers, who also enjoy greater confidence from supporting evidence.
  • Deliver customer and employee satisfaction – Efficiency gains not only provide more time for additional scope with no increase in expenditure (resulting in better products), it also allows staff to see their own metrics for greater focus on their work.
  • Help other departments – From an HR perspective, data-driven leadership can help support employees who need assistance, analyse ability during the recruitment process, and attract talent more easily thanks to a world-class engineering team.

Getting buy-in from the team

On the face of it, some aspects of data-driven leadership might make certain employees a little uncomfortable – a feeling of being targeted or under surveillance.

While introducing a new way of doing things at work isn’t always straightforward, we look to make the advantages obvious and encourage team members to actively ‘buy in’ to initiatives that will ultimately benefit them.

After all, data-driven leadership is about working towards a common goal of learning and sharing. From the get-go, we knew that completely changing our approach to KPIs wouldn’t work. Instead, we started small and focused on just one area before moving onto other longer-term metrics.

What’s more, the entire team is empowered with the responsibility of improving behaviours and processes, which includes identifying targets together. The end goal is to improve as developers, to help better ourselves, and Transpire as a whole.

Establishing the initiative

First of all, we needed to identify a tool that would provide us with useful data and metrics about our development team’s performance, which could then be leveraged for achievable target setting.

The tool we chose was GitPrime, which parses all the data from all the git repos at Transpire and generates a set of reports for team leads, managers, and developers. Additional advantages include universal access for the entire team to self-manage and integration with our existing product tracking software, Jira.

Instead of counting lines of code, which is pointless, GitPrime looks at metrics like commits, activity, impact, and efficiency for a more insightful view of individual performance. It focuses on the process behind the work we do, making patterns in behaviour easier to identify and understand.

As a result, we’re able to measure what is working and what can be improved, allowing team leads and managers to gain a comprehensive overview of performance in an accessible, digestible form.

But what if our development team wants to ‘game’ the metrics that GitPrime analyses in order to boost their own performance numbers? Well in many respects, this is exactly what we want to happen, as the system has been set-up to encourage greater activity from the team.

Here’s an example from GitPrime explaining how to game its ‘active days’ metric…

“This one is easy — just push your work every day. No need to merge into a particular branch, GitPrime will see anything you add to the repo. As an added bonus, this is really good practice anyhow, since it increases visibility and makes sure your work is saved somewhere other than your local machine in the event of a hard drive crash.”

Jaala Seifipour, Customer Service Lead, GitPrime.

Trying to ‘game’ the active days metric results in code being pushed more often. In turn, this leads to smaller commits, less risk of data loss, and improves our ability to bring in additional resources if one of the team is unexpected unavailable.

How have we benefited from data-driven leadership?

Our data-driven leadership initiative has ultimately proved successful in terms of identifying metrics, tracking performance, and improving efficiency. With more accurate and insightful metrics, we now know for sure that active days, commits per active day, impact, and efficiency has increased over the same period this time last year.

Easy to digest visualisation of developer activity and performance.

But in addition to performance, the behavioural and cultural changes that have come about from data-driven leadership arguably provide even more encouragement to the mobile and web development team.

Examples of positive change include:

  • More focus on working towards configuration as code with examples of these migrations. This results in less handover effort, faster deployments and less risk.
  • Discussions and actions around backup policies, and smaller, more frequent commits overall. This reduces our exposure to risks with hardware failure or loss and allows us to recover more quickly. The smaller commits have many other benefits – easier to understand more frequent pull requests and less cognitive load on the developers when preparing their commits.
  • Identification of bottlenecks and action to resolve in the team with pull requests. This also fed into our recruitment strategy allowing us to better plan for a good blend of senior and junior engineers.
  • Education outside of the development team, with our designers also seeing benefit in measuring themselves against the same and similar metrics.
  • Early identification of developers requiring assistance, allowing intervention and acceleration of resolution (pair programming/swarming). We were retrospectively able to see where this has cost us time and where an intervention has likely saved us days in cost to our clients.
  • Improved objective setting for developers. Ability to get buy-in due to the transparency of the metrics, and properly measure. This allows us to focus on improving our developers daily work, making them happier and more effective.
  • Developers openly sharing their areas of improvement in team meetings, citing useful real world examples with corresponding data. This encourages continuous learning and a stronger team culture.
  • Discovery of untracked repos which do not comply with our policies – provided an opportunity to educate and improve our compliance.
  • Evidence of project managers raising perceived performance issues that were not backed up with data. Allowed for identification of underlying issues instead of focusing on the wrong area of improvement.

The opportunity to introduce data-driven leadership was something we couldn’t afford to miss out on. Transpire wants to lead the pack when it comes to mobile and web development – providing our customers with world-class products and experiences that are backed-up by equally seamless and consummate processes.

To discover how we could help your business reach the next level, get in touch today.


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