Google’s DORA DevOps report warns against metrics misuse

The much-anticipated 2023 State of DevOps report from DORA (DevOps Research and Assessment) has now been officially published. Drawing insights from a global pool of more than 36,000 professionals, this yearly Accelerate State of DevOps Report offers an impartial perspective on the strategies and capabilities organizations can utilize to enhance the effectiveness of their DevOps practices. Amidst the swift wave of digital transformation, the bedrock for successful software delivery lies in fostering a positive organizational culture and prioritizing user-centric design. Despite Artificial Intelligence (AI) being a focal point in numerous contemporary technical discussions, the influence of AI development tools on teams is still in its nascent stages.

These insights are gleaned from the 2023 Accelerate State of DevOps Report, an annual publication by Google Cloud’s DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA) team. The DevOps Research and Assessment Group (DORA) recommends that IT professionals assess team performance based on four critical metrics: deployment frequency, lead time for changes, change failure rate, and failed deployment recovery time, formerly known as mean time, to restore service (MTTR). Since Google acquired DORA in 2018, startups and established software development vendors like Sleuth, Harness, and Atlassian have shared insights on DORA metrics with engineering managers.

While DORA continues to gauge organizational performance through metrics, this year’s report also notes potential pitfalls. It emphasizes that DORA metrics should not be treated as an exact science and should not be misused when evaluating team-by-team performance. “Measurement is not the goal, just as delivering software is not the goal,” according to the report. “Fixating on performance metrics can lead to ineffective behaviours. Investing in capabilities and learning is a better way to enable success. Teams that learn the most improve the most.”

The aspects of culture that can improve employee well-being
The aspects of culture that can improve employee well-being

The dangers of misusing metrics

It is common for engineering managers and executives to set DORA metric results as benchmarks and to compare the performance of various development teams. However, according to Nathen Harvey, a developer advocate at DORA and Google Cloud, this approach is a mistake.

“What I want leaders to do is not celebrate the fastest software delivery teams,” he said. “I want them to celebrate the most improved software delivery teams at the end of the year. Let’s look at who improved the most. Because that’s the team embracing this idea of continuous improvement.”

Continuous improvement is an ongoing process that is never truly “complete,” a concept that can be challenging for business leaders to fully grasp, Harvey noted. Even teams that have made significant strides can find areas for further enhancement. The team with the slowest apparent progress within a company may have achieved the most improvement, depending on the unique aspects of the application it delivers. Harvey cautioned against unproductive and potentially harmful comparisons of metrics between teams developing different applications, each with its constraints, infrastructure requirements, and user experiences.

According to the DORA DevOps report, the emphasis for software development teams should shift away from being mere “feature factories,” as articulated by Harvey. Instead, the focus should be directed towards prioritizing user experience and ensuring the well-being of the team.

Elite performers around the world are able to achieve both throughput and stability.
Elite performers around the world are able to achieve both throughput and stability.

Key outcomes

For nine years, the State of DevOps survey has compiled data from over 36,000 professionals globally, establishing itself as the most extensive and enduring research initiative of its kind. In its latest iteration, the report extensively examined how top-performing DevOps practitioners integrate technical, process, and cultural capabilities into their development practices to achieve success.

In particular, the report delved into three pivotal outcomes of adopting a DevOps practice and the associated capabilities that play a crucial role in attaining these outcomes: Organizational performance involves creating value for both customers and the community. Team performance centers on empowering teams to innovate and collaborate effectively. Employee well-being is focused on minimizing burnout and enhancing satisfaction and productivity among team members.

In the current year, the DevOps Report is leveraging an exceptionally robust dataset, with the total number of organic respondents experiencing a 3.6x increase compared to the previous year. This significant expansion enables a more in-depth analysis of the correlation between various work methodologies and the resulting outcomes.

AI contribution to technical tasks
AI contribution to technical tasks

Key insights worth highlighting

Championing a robust culture: Culture isn’t merely an aspect; it serves as the foundation. Teams anchored in generative cultures surpass expectations, demonstrating a 30% increase in organisational performance.

User-oriented development approach: Amidst evolving architectural paradigms and methodologies, the shift from a feature-centric to a value-centric development approach is imperative. In quantitative terms, teams embracing a user-centric strategy experience a substantial 40% improvement in organisational performance.

Elevate technical capabilities with quality documentation: Despite the current trend toward streamlining documentation, its significance remains undiminished. Empowering developers to independently leverage a platform’s capabilities is crucial. For instance, trunk-based development exhibits a remarkable 12.8x impact on organisational performance when supported by high-quality documentation instead of subpar alternatives.

Striking the right balance: Delivery speed and operational excellence are intricately linked. Infusing these with a user-centric focus elevates organisational metrics and enhances employee satisfaction. DORA’s research underscores a critical insight: sustained high performance necessitates continuous improvement. Regularly assessing outcomes across the organisation, teams, and individual employees is vital. Identifying areas for optimisation and implementing incremental changes is the key to amplifying performance.

George Mavridis is a freelance journalist and writer based in Greece. His work primarily covers tech, innovation, social media, digital communication, and politics. He graduated from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki with a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication. Also, he holds an MA in Media and Communication Studies from the Malmö University of Sweden and an MA in Digital Humanities from the Linnaeus University of Sweden.