In most successful organizations, software developers align their goals with the goals of the business. In the real world, though, that’s not what happens. Instead, where you sit in the organization determines how you believe development teams should succeed. In an analysis of Forrester’s Developer Survey data, we found that:

  • C-levels and middle managers know the business and think strategically. Respondents from the corner office think that sales and client retention should be measures of a development team’s success. They’re about twice as likely as individual developers to think about security.
  • Line managers try to translate between their managers and the dev team. Unfortunately, development managers have trouble communicating both up and down the chain. They underrate business-value metrics compared to their managers. They do care more than their managers about security — about as much as C-levels — but they’re not sending that message to their development team.
  • Developers think tactically and don’t understand the business. They’re thinking about completing the next feature and the one after that. They don’t understand how what they do influences the success of the business, and they’re not finding out from their managers.

Agile And Non-Agile Are Different

Agile organizations have slightly more awareness of business results than non-agile organizations, although individual developers are mostly at sea. In non-agile companies, there’s even more confusion: About one in 80 non-agile line managers and one in six non-agile individual contributors say that they “don’t know” what it means for a development team to be successful.

Sometimes, There Are Surprising Realignments

Unexpectedly, in some cases priorities diverge in management and then align as they get closer to the individual contributors. More non-agile respondents who are line managers (28%) consider security as a primary indication of project success than the middle managers above them (22%). This matches non-agile C-level employees, who chose security as a primary measure 27% of the time. It’s hard not to visualize middle managers saying “Security isn’t really that important” while line managers are saying “I’m the one on the firing line if things go south.”

Agile Executives Want Metrics

One of the larger differences we found was in the use of Google DORA metrics to indicate a project’s success. About one in five agile C-level respondents is thinking about those metrics as a primary measure of success. In contrast, for agile individual contributors, it’s closer to one in 50. It’s hard for the C-level group to understand when a project is productive and when it’s not; even if DORA misses some criteria, it’s a nonintrusive way to get a measurement that can relate to productivity. Developers, the “boots on the ground,” can see who’s productive on the team and who’s not without a yardstick.

Where do you fall in the hierarchy? Do you know what those above you expect? Do you know what those below you think success looks like? Read Unclear On The Concept: Business Leaders And Software Developers Disagree About Development Progress And Success to understand how everyone pictures a successful development team.