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Getting started with Investment Balance

Analyze team focus, improve time allocation and boost focus on top priorities

Running engineering is a balancing act. The best teams ensure that as they build new things, they also address their technical debt and invest in productivity and infrastructure improvements.

Swarmia's Investment Balance helps you do precisely that:

  • Understand how you spend time.
  • Boost focus on work that matters.
  • Achieve balance between different categories of work.

It's also designed to adapt to how your organization works, so there's no need to change your internal processes to get started.

With the Investment Balance, it's possible to get a high-level overview of the entire organization and drill down to see how individual teams spend time. Using the Developer Overview, you can also look at the investment balance for individual contributors.

Read below to learn how to get started with Investment Balance in Swarmia.

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Common problems with balancing engineering investment

When organizations mature and grow, more things start to compete for teams' attention. This can result in teams spreading their focus too thin, and not being able to spend enough time on their top priorities.

It's easy to imagine the difference between a team spending 20% of their time towards a goal versus one that spends 40%: the time to deliver a solution at least doubles. This isn't good news for the team or the organization – but there's a massive opportunity on the flip side: teams who can improve roadmap focus can drastically improve their impact.

Here are some questions Investment Balance can help you answer:
  • Are you spending less than 50% of your time on high priorities? Little time spent on the most important category might mean your team has too many things to focus on, or that it's not clear how to progress further with the important projects.
  • Is a majority of your time going to bug fixing and maintenance work? An increasing trend in the amount of bug fixing and maintenance work can indicate a problem with the team health. This might require an action such as investing into infrastructure, or addressing some of the technical debt the team has accrued.
  • Are you spending an increasing amount of time with ad hoc tasks? When organizations and systems grow, complexity grows with them. It's sometimes easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of goals, opportunities and the difficulty of getting complex problems solved. This can cause teams and individuals to fall back to simple, reactive tasks which are easy to complete, but time spent on them might not maximize the impact of the team. 
  • Do you have a lot of unlinked work? Drawing good conclusions without transparency to a major share of the work can be difficult. Creating routines to link issues and pull requests, and categorizing ad hoc work, pays off and enables the team to make well-informed decisions to improve their performance.
  • Look out for decreasing trends in the most important work. This increases your odds of catching a problem early and correcting course before it becomes a real problem.

How Investment Balance works

Investment Balance shows activity on pull requests and issues grouped by investment category and includes both completed issues and merged pull requests. Over a longer period of time, we've seen that these activities are a reliable proxy for understanding development time.

Activities shown in the report are based on the team members

If your team members have contributed towards issues belonging to other teams, those issues will also show up. Think of this as not a bug, but a feature: the team is investing its time somewhere, and the report shows you where that investment goes, even if it's not for the things you might've expected.

How work is grouped by category

We start by looking at all contributions by all team members of the selected team, then determine the investment category based on the rules you've set up.

Then work is grouped by investment category (these categories are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive).

If multiple tasks belong to a bigger project, it's possible to have different investment categories assigned to each task and the project as a whole. In this case, we'll show each task in its respective category of work.

Configuring investment categories

Investment categories are fully customizable. Before you create your own categories, we highly recommend reading our blog post on balancing engineering investment, sharing best practices on how to think of these categories.

See a detailed guide on how to configure investment categories in Swarmia.

Categorizing work

Swarmia comes with a couple of handy tools that help you categorize work in minutes. You can set up automated filters to categorize work based on certain criteria (for example, a label or a pull request title prefix).

Alternatively, you can also link issues and pull requests to investment categories manually but selecting them anywhere in the app.

To get the full benefit out of Swarmia's investment insights, we recommend linking pull requests to Issues. There's also a working agreement that help teams do that.