Sep 29, 2022 | 3 min read

Getting Started with Software Development Metrics

By: Patrick Emmons


Metrics track key performance indicators (KPIs) within business organizations. Using them ensures that individuals and software teams are aware of performance expectations. While implementing metrics can be intimidating, the benefits make it worthwhile. Here are some tips for using software development metrics to lead teams effectively.

Lead Like a Coach

DragonSpears CEO, Patrick Emmons, coaches lacrosse in Chicago, IL. During an interview, he stated that coaching is similar to leading a business in many ways.

Everyone talks about scoring goals in lacrosse, but Patrick takes a different approach. He talks to his team about completing passes and ground balls and sets goals around both metrics. Doing so helps motivate and focus the team. Contrary to belief, the game isn't about scoring but rather the activities occurring during the game that leads to scoring.

In business, the same mentality can be applied. Many leaders know the outcome they want but don't break it down into the day-to-day behaviors that will lead to the desired result. To resolve this issue, leaders must ask the following questions:

  • What are the weekly basis behaviors that will help the team reach their goals?
  • Are the behaviors leading to the outcome they want?

Lagging Vs. Leading Indicators

The first step to using software development metrics is setting a goal, also known as a lagging indicator. Software team leaders can choose many lagging indicators, but it is best to keep it simple. Don't try to accomplish too much in a short period. Pick one goal or lagging indicator and stick to it.

The next step is identifying leading indicators or behaviors that will lead the team to the desired outcome. In lacrosse, three behaviors must be done to score:

  1. Maintain possession of the ball.
  2. Win face-offs.
  3. Obtain ground balls.

Leaders can use this framework to create software development metrics around leading indicators since these behaviors can be controlled to achieve the desired outcome.

Read more about Key Metrics for Scrum Masters

Getting Started

Fear of Failure: Many software team leaders are hesitant to establish metrics because of the fear of being exposed. They hold individuals,  teams, and leaders accountable for their behaviors and reveal low-performers or individuals who aren't team players.

Provide Clarity: Metrics inform individuals what they should do to achieve their goals. Rather than focusing on what not to do, think about the one behavior that needs to be done to impact the team's success.

Simplify. Simplify. Simplify: To pave the path for success, start with only one metric. The objective should always be simplification. Creating too many metrics causes confusion and ambiguity. The goal of using metrics is to eventually only have one.

Use the Term Beta: Asking for feedback is critical to clarify expectations, commit to improvement, and engage employees. Promoting the feedback visually or verbally will ensure everyone is on the same page.

Software development metrics are a great way to encourage teams and hold individuals accountable. Rather than running from numbers, embrace them. It's okay to be wrong, but don't let that get in the way of getting started.

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About Patrick Emmons

If you can’t appreciate a good sports analogy, movie quote, or military reference, you may not want to work with him, but if you value honesty, integrity, and commitment to improvement, Patrick can certainly help take your business or your career to the next level. “Good enough,” is simply not in his vernacular. Pat’s passion is for relentlessly pushing himself and others to achieve full potential. Patrick Emmons is a graduate of St. Norbert College with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science and Mathematics. Patrick co-founded Adage Technologies in 2001 and in 2015, founded DragonSpears as a spin-off dedicated to developing custom applications that improve speed, compliance and scalability of clients’ internal and customer-facing workflow processes. When he is not learning about new technology, running a better business, or becoming a stronger leader, he can be found coaching his kids’ (FIVE of them) baseball and lacrosse teams and praising his ever-so-patient wife for all her support.