SPACE is not a silver bullet

Discussions about measuring developer productivity inevitably lead to someone suggesting “just use the SPACE metrics” as if the framework were a silver bullet. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

People commonly assume that the SPACE framework provides a canonical set of metrics for organizations to implement. But in reality, the metrics listed in the framework are provided as examples, not standardized recommendations. Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey—one of the authors of SPACE—recently appeared as a guest on my podcast and clarified this, saying:

The metrics that we included in the paper were example metrics. We didn’t intend to curate a full list of metrics or even claim that these are the metrics that you should use.”
- Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey

Organizations that rush to either build or purchase off-the-shelf dashboards for “SPACE metrics” are misguided. Although the SPACE framework provides a helpful conceptual framework for how to think about developer productivity, converting it into useful metrics and dashboards is far from straightforward. Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey clarified this in our conversation, saying:

A lot of people are trying to figure out how to take the dimensions in SPACE and then turn them into metrics in a dashboard. My usual answer to that is not one that many people might want to hear: It’s not a quick fix—it can’t easily be applied.”
- Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey

Leaders should understand that the SPACE framework requires careful study and design in order to implement, and be wary of quick solutions. Despite decades of research and practical development experience, knowing how to measure or even define developer productivity remains an elusive problem. Leaders looking to improve developer productivity should focus on developer experience instead.

March 29, 2023

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