As VP of Engineering at Liquibase, it’s been my primary goal in 2023 to fully embrace progressive DevOps culture. As I reflect on last year and look to 2024 – and in light of the hot topics of the 2023 State of DevOps report from DORA – I want to share our team’s approaches to improving developer experience, tracking productivity metrics, and aligning engineering resources to business impacts. My goal is to continue the spirit of the conversations held in the User-centric database change management event by looking inward at how we embrace progressive DevOps culture as we build the future of database DevOps.
Optimizing developer experience
The 2023 DORA report perhaps most strongly emphasizes the correlation between DevOps, productivity, and better experiences/higher satisfaction for development teams. At Liquibase, we prioritize this by focusing on work-life balance, autonomy, trust, and communication.
A globally distributed team requires flexibility in work hours to accommodate different time zones. We encourage engineers to work according to their local business hours to optimize work-life balance and foster a positive working environment.
Autonomy and trust
I believe micromanagement is counterproductive and that quality of work is more valuable than the number of hours spent working. We grant this level of autonomy with the understanding that each member will manage their responsibilities effectively, a trust that is deeply embedded in our team culture.
At Liquibase, we follow agile development practices and try to ensure that all the core scrum ceremonies are scheduled to accommodate the team's varied time zones. Meetings like daily team-wide standups are essential for cohesion and accountability. We also utilize Slack to facilitate both live and asynchronous collaboration, with specific channels and etiquette rules in place to maintain focus and organization.
Measuring and continuously improving developer productivity
Of course, DORA metrics remain in focus, but developer productivity is about much more than what we can learn from a dashboard.
An individualized approach
Commonly used metrics like sprint velocity and individual throughput are tracked and considered, but we also balance these against the unique realities of different roles on the engineering team. This nuanced approach helps me and my engineering managers to set achievable goals and expectations.
We place high importance on the overall quality of all our software products and employ different methodologies including shift-left testing and enforcing software quality gates. Establishing thoughtful baselines and then continuing to improve on those numbers is a crucial indicator of progress and success. Some of the metrics that fall under this category include:
- Internally found defects vs. externally found defects
- Defect closure rate
- Time to resolution
Agile ceremonies like Sprint Retrospectives allow team members to reflect on the previous sprint, celebrate worthy accomplishments, and talk about situations that could have gone better. We also openly discuss expected vs. actual velocity and whether the team met their sprint goals. This transparency and honesty helps the whole team identify areas for improvement, fostering a culture of collective growth and accountability.
Connecting engineering resources to business impacts
Drawing clear lines from development team efforts to gains in revenue, profits, efficiency, and other business-critical elements not only ensures a refined, targeted strategy – it in turn improves satisfaction and productivity, too. As a whole, these tenets of engineering leadership support and enforce one another, creating cycles of continuous improvement.
When engineering teams and individual engineers understand the business value of DevOps and of the features they’re developing, it helps them build better products. We try to promote this understanding at the ticket level, through communication by product managers and owners. It’s also continuously reinforced through regular grooming, conditioning, and planning sessions.
With every release, especially when they involve strategic and meaningful capabilities, an announcement is made to the entire organization. Doing so promotes visibility across the organization, but also ensures that other departments understand the value that the engineering team provides, thereby accelerating its adoption and impact.
Continuous feedback loop
We value feedback of every kind, even if it’s not positive. Sometimes the most critical reviews are the ones that drive the biggest changes. Wherever and whenever possible, feedback from multiple company channels is collected and channeled back to the engineering team, serving as both validation and opportunity for refinement.
Keys to engineering success at Liquibase
In my experience, the keys to engineering team success lie in these three categories – prioritizing developer experience, understanding productivity metrics/indicators, and aligning business impact. By no mistake, these line up with the three pillars of Liquibase’s core values: People, Integrity, and Excellence.
In 2023, the engineering team devoted substantial time and effort into understanding and empowering these core values. To build out a happy, successful, and thriving team we:
- Hire – and promote internally – the right people in the right roles, when it makes the most sense for the team, business, and our expanding CI/CD pipeline.
- Structure smaller units within the broader team to enable precise focus and consistent wins.
- Empower every team member with maximum autonomy and authority – and, inherently, trust – to do their job well and do their part to support our growth and innovation.
If this is the kind of DevOps thinking that appeals to you, I encourage you to check out: