Improve and Measure Developer Productivity with Postman’s API-First Features

As demand for APIs grows and their development efforts increasingly go virtual, the natural next question for engineering leaders is around developer productivity: how do we increase, measure, and facilitate the productivity of these business-critical teams?

In 2021, researchers from Microsoft and GitHub released a paper, “The SPACE of Developer Productivity: There’s more to it than you think,” in which they laid out a new way to think about developer productivity—not through a single measure, like the number of pull requests or lines of code written, but through a more holistic, multidimensional approach that takes into account individual and team performance, as well as both self-perceptions and others’ perceptions of productivity.

The 2022 State of the API report (SOTA), also gives us a window into current attitudes, trends, and metrics related to development and API-first practices, which have really proved effective in today’s work-from-home era. Combining the findings from Microsoft and SOTA, we will walk through recommendations for facilitating developer productivity with Postman’s API-first capabilities.

Launching into SPACE: Postman can help you achieve and measure results

1. Satisfaction and well-being

The first measure of the SPACE framework concerns the satisfaction and well-being of developers. The authors mention that “productivity and satisfaction are correlated, and it is possible that satisfaction could serve as a leading indicator for productivity.” In other words, the biggest boost to your team’s productivity may have less to do with which project management philosophy you follow, and more to do with keeping developers happy and fulfilled. When developers have the tools and resources they need to get their work done, their scores for developer efficacy go up as well.

With more than 20 million users, the Postman API Platform was ranked by G2 as the number one software for both API management and design. When organizations give developers access to a tool like Postman that so many are already familiar with, it is one less platform they have to learn on their way to “job done.”

2. Performance

Next up is performance, “often best evaluated as outcomes instead of output. The most simplified view of software developer performance could be, ‘Did the code written by the developer reliably do what it was supposed to do?’” Quality was reported as the top priority for development teams responding to the SOTA survey in 2022. Quality and impact of work are key metrics to watch. When we talk about the quality of code and APIs in particular, we look at the reliability and health of the service, and a general absence of bugs.

When thinking about quality in terms of API development, a major factor is having a good automation testing setup—by making sure that a release has everything it needs and won’t break anything means quicker and smoother deployments. Respondents to the SOTA report noted that they feel they should allocate more of their “API time” to automation testing than they currently do. With the new Postman CLI integrations, teams can save time by automatically generating CI/CD configurations for their platform of choice, allowing them to focus their time more on the content of their tests, and less on setup and infrastructure.

3. Activity

Activity is the productivity metric teams are probably most familiar with already. Counts of pull requests and lines of code written are some of the more common pillars used to get a gauge of what developers are up to, but with the many tools and activities required to take an app from an idea to production, it’s often too narrowly focused to get a clear picture of team or developer efficiency. By expanding the scope of the activities tracked, however, it can be a valuable piece of the larger picture. The SPACE authors give a few more examples of quantifiable activities, like number of design documents or specs, code reviews, CI/CD metrics (like builds, tests, deployments, and releases), and count of incidents coupled with their mitigations. Teams may have other metrics built into their development cycles that can be factored in here too.

For those utilizing the Postman Enterprise plan, the Reporting dashboard can help fill in some of these gaps: everything from the number of security and governance violations in a team’s API specifications early in the API development lifecycle to response time and test results at an individual API level after deployment can help to paint a broader picture of an API program’s success.

4. Communication and collaboration

Though you may hear developers say that much of their work occurs in a solo state of flow, development at a large scale is very much a team sport. The “in-between” work that happens when teams communicate, plan, and help one another is vital to its success. How does management go about measuring (and enabling) this “in-between” work?

One of these metrics could be reduced onboarding time. This metric of time to first call (TTFC) measures how much time it takes for someone to get started with your API–whether it be a new member of your team working with internal services, or a community developer trying out their first call to a public API. This can be measured in a variety of ways: either qualitatively with direct feedback or by browsing forums and help tickets, or with quantitative metrics like the time from which a developer is granted API credentials to the time they make their first API call.

Enabling users to get up and running with an API quickly and easily is where Postman workspaces really shine. Postman Co-founder and CEO Abhinav Asthana recently outlined ten common ways of collaborating in Postman workspaces—whether workspaces are focused on solving support tickets or onboarding new engineers to a project, having a shared environment where teams can collaborate, ideate, and communicate all in one place can help speed up the velocity of many types of projects.

5. Efficacy and flow

The final measure outlined in the SPACE paper is efficacy and flow, defined by the authors as “the ability to complete work or make progress on it with minimal interruptions or delays, whether individually or through a system.” Many developers may automatically think of “flow” as the elusive focus-time blocks where they are able to bear down and make progress on projects without interruption (and this is critical!), but perhaps flow can also be thought of as how easily teams are able to progress through the API lifecycle.

One advantage of fully utilizing the Postman platform is that it can be the “command center” for a team’s API projects. For teams following an API-first approach, they can design and refine their specification in the API Builder with new governance and security linting features, then generate their server code scaffolding and documentation for the backend team, while the frontend team works from generated mock servers. Pulling in integrations from your APM, version control, CI/CD, and API gateway can make your team’s Postman instance into the central hub for service-related information, allowing teams to review results together and reduce context switching between apps.

Wrapping up

While no metric can be the sole determinant of whether an individual or team is productive or not, each can be a valuable indicator of the state of your team and its needs. There are lots of things that should be taken into account when measuring performance, and Postman’s coverage of the entire API lifecycle is designed to help provide insight.

We’ve only shared a fraction of the findings in both the SPACE paper and the State of the API report, so if you’re interested in learning more about enhancing developer productivity, check out both resources for even more specifics.

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