Productivity on software projects


Staff, management, product and environment factors impacting productivity on software projects


Good productivity on software projects is a sign of well-run organisations. When productivity is low, it’s often difficult to identify why, even if the reasons are in plain sight. Poorly understood causes coupled with pressure to improve might force management into taking inappropriate measures. These measures over time lead to unhealthy work environments, lower product quality and ultimately to even lower productivity.

Understanding what drives productivity is crucial for any organisation. In this post I list factors that impact productivity on (software) projects. The listed factors are based on management literature and my own experience. Broadly speaking these factors can be grouped into 4 categories: Staff, management, product and environment.


Factor Description
Team capability e.g. years of experience, problem-solving skills, quality of communication
Staff morale e.g. motivation, turn-over
Business leadership capability e.g. decisiveness, cohesion, vision, stakeholder management
Application experience familiarity with type of application developed
Technology experience familiarity with given technology
Practices experience familiarity with practices used on project
Target system experience familiarity with target platform or environment
Domain knowledge business domain know-how
Size size of team
Specialization e.g. hand-offs, communication overhead


Factor Description
Project control e.g. progress assessment, bottlenecks, transparency
Project planning and scheduling e.g. resource allocations, task dependencies, parallel work, prioritization
Process maturity e.g. well-defined process, roles and responsibilities, effective, predictable, stable
Modern practices using evidence-based practices and methodologies (e.g. not Scrum)
Process improvement problem identification and improvement processes
Schedule constraint e.g. aggressive deadlines


Factor Description
Product category e.g. avionics, business, embedded
Size size of software to be developed
Resource constraints e.g. memory, bandwidth, CPU, storage
Product complexity e.g. high/low level language, algorithms, complex domain, integration with other software, tolerance for technical debt
Product reliability requirements e.g. SLO, correctness, precision
Real-time requirements e.g. responsiveness
Product security requirements e.g. PCI-DSS, audit norms, access management
Requirements volatility e.g. scope changes
Requirements clarity e.g. written requirements including non-functional, testable, prioritized
Required reuse integration with 3rd party, using mandated technology e.g. frameworks
Architecture wrong architecture decreases productivity with size


Factor Description
Multiple organisations multiple vendors involved
Multiple sites project developed multi-site
Physical work environment e.g. noisy environment, disturbances, security restrictions
Modern tools build systems, automation, checkers


Some factors like customer deadlines or mandated level of security for regulated industries will drag productivity down no matter what, because they are intrinsic to the project/product and thus outside of organizations control.

Instead, organizations should focus effort on factors that can improved, like a proper team composition, adequate work environment with private “thinking-spaces”, structured approaches to requirement capture or keeping project plans aligned with available resources.