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GitHub Good Day Project Identifies Developer Happiness

A new Developer Velocity Lab effort from Microsoft and GitHub digs into what makes a day "good" to help boost developer productivity and satisfaction.

Some days are better than others for developer productivity. In an attempt to quantify what activities and things make one day better than another, GitHub conducted an internal investigation it dubbed the Good Day Project.

Among the key findings from the Good Day Project is that on days when developers have no or minimal interruptions, there is an 82% chance they will have a good day. The study also looked specifically at the impact of meetings on developer productivity and happiness. According to the report, developers who only have one meeting per day have a 99% chance of having a good day. With two meetings, productivity drops to 74%, and with three meetings there is a precipitous decline—to only 14%.

Benefits of Daily Reflection and Review

The biggest surprise from the survey for Nicole Forsgren, vice president of research and strategy at GitHub, wasn't that more meetings decrease productivity. Rather, it was the enthusiasm and delight in the project from those who participated. The Good Day Project required participants to fill out a survey every day for two weeks to track whether they had a good day or not, and what activities led to that outcome.

Forsgren told ITPro Today that the study received strong feedback from participants and that it produced valuable insights for them.

"Personal and private daily reflections create a good daily habit and provide insights that can help us have good days," she said.

The Good Day Project kept all of the data private, so the participants didn't worry that they could be labeled a negative person if, for example, they noted that every day was a bad day.

The study found that short, daily reflections provided immediate value for developers and their teams, helping them to wrap up each day, according to Forsgren.

"The simple exercise makes developers aware of areas for improvement and can increase work satisfaction," she said. "The good news is that this doesn't require an elaborate tool—it just takes a quick daily reflection based on a few questions, which we've outlined at the end of the Good Day Project writeup for developers and teams to adopt."

Improving Developer Velocity for More Good Days

The Good Day Project itself is a product of a new initiative known as the Developer Velocity Lab (DVL) that Forsgren leads.

DVL is a joint research initiative between GitHub and Microsoft that will live in Microsoft Research (MSR), Forsgren said. The Good Day Project analysis was conducted by DVL researchers at GitHub applying the SPACE framework, which is another research project from DVL researchers, she added.

"MSR has traditionally done peer review, and it's so important to scientific discovery," Forsgren said. "DVL will extend this model by making the research available and accessible to broad audiences—including devs, leaders, enterprises and OSS [open-source software] communities—through additional content, such as short papers, tools and videos."

A goal of DVL is to be creative so that its research can be easily and quickly used by many people, according to Forsgren. Her expectation is that DVL's efforts will also help accelerate and improve ties between industry and research over time.

If the Good Day Project study is conducted again in 2022, Forsgren said she would like to include a few additional items.

"If we conduct this study again in 2022, I’d love to include items about collaboration to find how developers are balancing colocated, hybrid and remote work with their teams and how that affects their energy," she said. "Beyond that, I think many of our general findings will stay the same. This study applies the SPACE framework and revalidates prior work that daily reflections improve satisfaction, and that self-monitoring and self-assessment bring awareness and can help developers set and improve goals over time."

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