Case studies

Building a successful developer experience function at BetterUp

BetterUp
BetterUp is now above the industry average for areas that were previously a challenge, such as technical debt, test efficiency, and documentation
44% of focus areas show quarter-over-quarter improvements, indicating ongoing progress
The DevEx function grew from a team of one to a team of three in one year

At BetterUp, developer experience projects used to be a shared responsibility: all teams would take action to improve problems as they saw them, alongside their feature work. But the company started growing quickly, and this approach didn’t scale. There were some challenges that were causing friction for developers that required a more concerted effort. 

Leslie Brown was a developer at BetterUp who found herself spending more and more time on developer experience work, in part because she felt a strong need to do so for her own work, but also because she was motivated by the idea of having a bigger impact. Eventually BetterUp’s CTO decided to form a dedicated DevEx team, and asked Brown if she’d take the lead. Brown recalls: “At first I wasn’t sure what it meant to be focused on DevEx, but then I read some online and learned that it’s all about removing friction from the engineer’s day to day. That resonated because it was something I was already doing, and definitely wanted to do more of.” 

One of the first projects Brown inherited was the company’s annual engineering survey. This survey was being used to give a snapshot of the organization, which could be used to inform DevEx projects as well. Brown soon learned, however, that this survey would require a lot of manual effort, including the time to understand what topics mattered to different teams, to collect data, and then analyze and deliver insights. “When we found DX, a product that does all that work for me and is not inherently biased, it was amazing,” says Brown. 

Since implementing DX, Brown has been able to have an outsized impact by enabling her to focus on the right projects and track the impact of her team’s work, all without having to spend time collecting data about developer pain points. Now that BetterUp has used DX for over a year, Brown’s DevEx team has grown, and have successfully advocated for and led initiatives that have impacted the entire engineering organization. 

Building the DevEx function at BetterUp

DX helped BetterUp’s DevEx function in three significant ways: by implementing a framework to improve productivity, improving engineering collaboration, and organizing DevEx as a business function.

Implementing a framework to improve productivity

The BetterUp team had a backlog of developer experience tasks, which had grown over the years as the team expanded. They labeled each task simply “developer experience” or “developer productivity” without considering which aspect of the development process they related to.

When Brown took the helm of the company’s DevEx focus, she found that implementing DX provided a clear framework for understanding which factors are hindering developer productivity. With the DX25 drivers, and the ability to facilitate improvement efforts across the organization with DX’s Focus Areas feature, BetterUp was able to establish a relationship between each aspect of the developer experience, plan efforts to improve, and track higher-level outcomes of this work. 

Selling a developer experience project as valuable for the business can be challenging. DX helps us craft a narrative that connects our work to the company’s bottom line.”
- Leslie Brown, Senior Full-Stack Software Engineer

Since implementing DX, productivity at BetterUp has improved. Additionally, BetterUp’s quarterly planning has become more straightforward, with the team relying on insights from DX to outline objectives for the upcoming quarter and provide solid justifications for each project.  

Connecting teams to learn about best practices

DX heatmaps show the strengths and weaknesses of different engineering teams, and this has been widely adopted at BetterUp as a way to spread best practices. With these reports, engineering managers examine areas where teams experience challenges or demonstrate exceptional performance. For example, if one team is struggling with deep work, consulting the heat map can reveal another team that excels in this area.

This paves the way for a discussion between the two managers, where they can exchange strategies. These conversations have led to practical changes, such as related to documentation and focus time. As a result of these exchanges and the follow-on improvements, BetterUp has seen significant improvements to document: they’re now 21% above the industry average. Similarly, their sentiment towards deep work is now 7% above the industry average.

Engineering managers are familiar with DX and use it to inform their retrospectives and future plans. They find it interesting to dig through the data.”
- Leslie Brown, Senior Full-Stack Software Engineer

From a team of one to a successful business function

After implementing DX, BetterUp has completely transformed their ability to collect insights about engineering health, satisfaction, and productivity. Whereas their survey was previously managed using spreadsheets and run annually, they’re now able to automatically capture rich qualitative and quantitative insights that are organized and easily translated into action items.

Previously, if Brown wanted to enable individual development teams to make their own improvements, she would have had to analyze results for each team, and partner with them to create action plans. Now, with DX, this is all automated: from delivering team-level results to providing strategies for improvement. 

Ultimately, DX is now an embedded part of BetterUp’s DevEx function. It has helped them have an outsized impact, and drive a focus on developer experience at all levels of the organization. “I’m lucky to have had DX with me from the beginning,” Brown says. 

I’m lucky to have had DX with me from the beginning.”
- Leslie Brown, Senior Full-Stack Software Engineer

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