Screencast: Fostering Software Developers’ Productivity at Work

Screencast of my talk that I recently gave at Tasktop. I talked about how we aim to improve developer productivity by increasing their awareness about their work, interruptions, habits and goals.

Click here to access the full blogpost by Patrick Anderson from Tasktop.

Find out more about this work:

Sensing Interruptibility in the Office: A Field Study on the Use of Biometric and Computer Interaction Sensors

Knowledge workers experience many interruptions during their work day. Especially when they happen at inopportune moments, interruptions can incur high costs, cause time loss and frustration. Knowing a person’s interruptibility allows optimizing the timing of interruptions and minimize disruption. Recent advances in technology provide the opportunity to collect a wide variety of data on knowledge workers to predict interruptibility. While prior work predominantly examined interruptibility based on a single data type and in short lab studies, we conducted a two-week field study with 13 professional software developers to investigate a variety of computer interaction, heart-, sleep-, and physical activity-related data. Our analysis shows that computer interaction data is more accurate in predicting interruptibility at the computer than biometric data (74.8% vs. 68.3% accuracy), and that combining both yields the best results (75.7% accuracy). We discuss our findings and their practical applicability also in light of collected qualitative data.

You may access the pre-print here.

Characterizing Software Developers by Perceptions of Productivity

This work has been conducted by André Meyer (UZH), Thomas Zimmermann (Microsoft Research) and Thomas Fritz (UBC). This research has been published to the industrial papers track at the ESEM’17 in Toronto. Thomas Zimmermann will present it on Thursday, November 9th, 2017 at 1pm in Session 4B: Qualitative Research. Download Pre-Print

Studying Developers’ Perceptions of Productivity instead of Measuring it

To overcome the ever-growing demand for software, we need new ways of optimizing the productivity of software developers. Existing work has predominantly focused on top-down approaches for defining or measuring productivity, such as lines of code, function points, or completed tasks over time. While these measurements are valuable to compare certain aspects of productivity, we argue that they miss the many other factors that influence the success and productivity of a software developer, such as the fragmentation of their work, their experience, and so on. A developer who spends the workday with writing a high-quality test-case or helping a co-worker would have a bad productivity-score with said measurements. Hence, in our previous work we looked at productivity from the bottom-up, looking at developers’ individual perceptions of productivity contrary to what was done in previous work. We found that while perceptions of productivity are indeed very individual, they follow certain habitual patterns each day (e.g. Morning-People, Low-At-Lunch People, and Afternoon-People) and there are activities that most developers consider as unproductive or productive.

Similar Perceptions of Productivity

This previous work however, left us questioning if there are possibly more people with similar perceptions of productivity that can be clustered together. To investigate this, we run an online survey with 413 professional software developers who currently work at Microsoft (average experience 9.6 years) and asked them four questions asking them to describe productive (Q1) and unproductive (Q2) workdays, to rate their agreement with statements on factors that might affect productivity (Q3) and to rate the interestingness of productivity measures at work (Q4).

We found out that developers can roughly be clustered into six groups with similar perceptions: the lone, focused, balanced, leading, and goal-oriented developer. This allows us to abstract and simplify the variety of individual perceptions into groups and optimize productivity for these groups instead of individuals. In the following, I will describe the specific characteristics of these groups:

Some just love creative tasks with no clear goal, while others prefer measurable tasks.
  1. The social developers feel productive when helping coworkers, collaborating and doing code reviews. To get things done, they come early to work or work late and try to focus on a single task.
  2. The lone developers avoid disruptions such as noise, email, meetings, and code reviews. They feel most productive when they have little to no social interactions and when they can work on solving problems, fixing bugs or coding features in quiet and without interruptions. To reflect about work, they are mostly interested in knowing the frequency and duration of interruptions they encountered. Note that this group of developers is almost the opposite of the first group (the social developer) in how productive they feel when encountering social interactions.
  3. The focused developers feel most productive when they are working efficiently and concentrated on a single task at a time. They are feeling unproductive when they are wasting time and spend too much time on a task, because they are stuck or working slowly. They are interested in knowing the number of interruptions and focused time.
  4. The balanced developers are less affected by disruptions. They are less likely to come early to work or work late. They are feeling unproductive, when tasks are unclear or irrelevant, they are unfamiliar with a task, or when tasks are causing overhead.
  5. The leading developers are more comfortable with meetings and emails and feel less productive with coding activities than other developers. They feel more productive in the afternoon and when they can write and design things. They do not like broken builds and blocking tasks, preventing them (or the team) from doing productive work.
  6. The goal-oriented developers feel productive when they complete or make progress on tasks. They feel less productive when they multi-task, are goal-less or are stuck. They are more open to meetings and emails compared to the other clusters, in case they help them achieve their goals. In contrast to group 3 (the focused developer), goal-oriented developers care more about actually getting stuff done (i.e. crossing items off the todo-list), while the focused developer cares more about working efficiently.

Optimizing Productivity for Different Groups of Developers

The six clusters and their characteristics provide relevant insights into groups of developers with similar productivity perceptions that can be used to optimize the work and flow on the team and the individual level. The differences between software developers’ preferred collaboration and work styles show that not all developers are alike, and that the cluster an individual or team belongs to could be a basis for tailoring actions for improving their work and productivity.

For example, on the team level, we could provide quiet, less interruption-prone office to the lone and focused developers (cluster 2 and 3), and seat social developers (cluster C1) who feel more comfortable with discussions every now and then. Another example is task assignments, assigning an explorative task for a new product that is very open without clear goal might be less suitable for the goal-oriented developer (cluster 6) as opposed to the social and leading developer (cluster 1 and 5) who prefer explorative tasks that require intensive collaboration.

Not everyone feels productive when spending time in meetings.

On the individual level, developers might benefit from tailored user experiences for their (development) tools. Maybe someday, we can build virtual assistants, e.g. Cortana/Alexa for Developers, that recommend (or automatically take) actions, depending on the developers’ cluster. For example, they could block out notifications from email, Slack, and Skype during coding sessions for the lone developer (cluster 2) but allow them for the social developer (cluster 1). Or they could recommend the focused developer (cluster 3) to come to work early to have uninterrupted work time, or suggest the balanced developer (cluster 4) to take a break to avoid boredom and tiredness. Or they could help with scheduling meetings, depending on the users’ preferences.


In the paper (find a pre-print here) you may find more detailed explanations into the study method, and a much more detailed discussion of the clusters.


Survey on how You Plan your Most Productive Days!

We are currently running a survey to learn more about knowledge workers’ work days – How are they planning them? Are they using any tools? How could tools help with more efficient planning?

We invite you to participate in this short, 10-12 minutes survey. To future goal is to develop improvements for common task management software.

Access the survey here.

We appreciate your help a lot! Please contact us in case you have any questions.

André Meyer –
Jürgen Cito – cito@ifi.uzh.c

seal @ ICSME 2017

We are very happy to announce that our research group got two papers accepted at ICSME 2017 in Shanghai, China.

The first paper is entitled “A Tale of CI Build Failures: an Open Source and a Financial Organization Perspective” and was written in collaboration with ING Nederland, University of Sannio and TU Delft. The authors of the paper are: Carmine Vassallo, Gerald Schermann, Fiorella Zampetti, Daniele Romano, Philipp Leitner, Andy Zaidman, Massimiliano Di Penta and Sebastiano Panichella.

Abstract: Continuous Integration (CI) and Continuous Delivery (CD) are widespread in both industrial and open-source software (OSS) projects. Recent research characterized build failures in CI and identified factors potentially correlated to them. However, most observations and findings of previous work are exclusively based on OSS projects or data from a single industrial organization. This paper provides a first attempt to compare the CI processes and occurrences of build failures in 349 Java OSS projects and 418 projects from a large financial organization, ING Nederland.


Through the analysis of 34,182 failing builds (26% of the total number of observed builds), we derived a taxonomy of failures that affect the observed CI processes. Using cluster analysis, we observed that in some cases OSS and ING projects share similar build failure patterns (e.g., few compilation failures as compared to frequent testing failures), while in other cases completely different patterns emerge. In short, we explain how OSS and ING CI processes exhibit commonalities, yet are substantially different in their design and in the failures they report.


The second accepted paper is entitled “Towards Activity-Aware Tool Support for Change Tasks” and was written by Katja Kevic and Thomas Fritz.

Abstract: To complete a change task, software developers perform a number of activities, such as locating and editing the relevant code. While there is a variety of approaches to support developers for change tasks, these approaches mainly focus on a single activity each. Given the wide variety of activities during a change task, a developer has to keep track of and switch a lot between the different approaches.


By knowing more about a developer’s activities and in particular by knowing when she is working on which activity, we would be able to provide better and more tailored tool support, thereby reducing developer effort. In our research we investigate the characteristics of these activities, whether they can be identified, and whether we can use this additional information to improve developer support for change tasks. We conducted two exploratory studies with a total of 21 software developers collecting data on activities in the lab and field. An empirical analysis of the data shows, amongst other results, that activities comprise a consistently small amount of code elements across all developers and tasks (approx. 8.7 elements). Further analysis of the data shows, that we can automatically detect the boundaries and types of activities, and that the information on activity types can be used to improve the identification of relevant code elements.


Survey on Static Analysis Tools

Our research group together with the Delft University of Technology (The Netherlands), is conducting a research project aimed at understanding the Usage of Static Analysis Tools (e.g., SonarQube, PMD, Checkstyle) in practice.

Given your solid experience as developer/engineer/researcher, we kindly ask you to fill in the following (brief) survey:

It will take approximately 10-12 minutes of your time. We will handle all responses confidentially and anonymize all collected data before publishing it.

Thanks in advance for your willingness in participating in this survey and…have fun!

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions.


FlowLight: How a Traffic Light Reduces Interruptions at Work (CHI’17)

We are extremely happy to announce our newest project, FlowLight, a traffic-light-like light for knowledge workers to reduce their interruptions at work, and makes them more productive! The research project, published with the title “Reducing Interruptions at Work: A Large-Scale Field Study of FlowLight”, was conducted in close collaboration with researchers at ABB. It was also awared with an Honorable Mention award.

Authors: Manuela Züger, Christopher Corley, André N. Meyer, Boyang Li, Thomas Fritz, David Shepherd, Vinay Augustine, Patrick Francis, Nicholas Kraft, Will Snipes

In the media: Our work was also featured on The Telegraph, Wall Street Journal, GeekWireNBC NewsNew AtlasDigitalTrends, Business StandardThe New Yorker, New ScientistTechXplore, MailOnline/DailyMail, ScienceDaily, The Times (UK), (Podcast), TheLaddersNews For Everyone, Evening Express, Yahoo News, India TodayPPP Focus, The StatesmanRadio Canada, LiveAtPC, Cantech Letter, Business Standard, Engineering 360, New Atlas, BT, Telengana TodayLe Matin (French), (German), Radio Energy (German), Die Presse (German), PresseText (German), Tages-Anzeiger (German) CnBeta (Chinese), PopMech (Russian), PcNews (Russian), Teknikan Maailma (Finnish), Utusan (Malaysian), Irish Examiner, Knowridge, CKNW Radio, Thrive GlobalTech.Rizlys, Appsforpcdaily.comEurekAlert, Lancashire Post, MetroNews, user-experience-blog (DE), Corriere della Sierra (Spanish), Breaking NewsUBC News, UBC ScienceSydöstran(Swedish), svt nyheter (Swedish), Sveriges Radio (Swedish) and many other blogs.

Reducing interruptions at the workplace

Various previous work has emphasized how bad constant interruptions and fragmentation of work is for knowledge workers’ productivity, the quality of their work, and also their motivation at work. When we were observing knowledge workers at their work in a previous study, we realized that signals, such as wearing headphones or closing their office door, were often used to visualize that they don’t want to be interrupted right now. However, this manual approach was often considered as quite cumbersome and not everybody was aware of these signs. Also, the long-term impact on teams and their work was unclear. This is why we developed the FlowLight, a physical traffic-light like LED combined with an automatic interruptibility measure based on computer interaction data.

The Research

In a large-scale and long-term field study with 449 participants from 12 different countries, we found, amongst other results, that the FlowLight reduced interruptions of participants by 46%, increased their awareness on the potential disruptiveness of interruptions, and most participants are still using it today!

These, and many other insights, can be found in detail in our publication to the CHI’17 conference (pre-print). Below, you find a video showcasing FlowLight:

This is a first step towards making knowledge workers more aware of, and reducing, interruptions at work. In the future, we plan to add extended computer interaction context and biometric sensing to improve FlowLight’s algorithm, to make it even more accurate.

Presentation & Demo at CHI’17

In case you are planning to attend the CHI’17 Conference in Denver next week, make sure to come to our presentation and learn much more about the FlowLight! The talk will take place on Monday, 9th 2017 at 11.30a to 12.50p.

You can find out more about (or soon order) FlowLight on this website.


A few more impressions:


“The Work Life of Developers: Activities, Switches and Perceived Productivity” accepted at TSE’17

We are happy to announce that our paper “The Work Life of Developers: Activities, Switches and Perceived Productivity” was accepted for the Transactions of Software Engineering (TSE) journal. You can access a pre-print here.

This work was conducted by André Meyer (UZH), Laura Barton (UBC), Gail Murphy (UBC), Thomas Zimmermann (Microsoft) and Thomas Fritz (UZH)

Make Developers Productive

Many software development companies strive to enhance the productivity of their engineers. All too often, efforts aimed at improving developer productivity are undertaken without knowledge about how developers spend their time at work and how it influences their own perception of productivity and well-being. For example, a software developers’ work day might be influenced by the tasks that are performed, by the infrastructure, tools used, or the office environment. Many of these factors result in activity and context switches that can cause fragmented work and, thus, often have a negative impact on the developers’ perceived productivity, quality of output and progress on tasks.

To fill this gap, we run an in-situ study with professional software developers from different companies, investigating developers’ work practices and the relationship to the developers’ perceptions of productivity more holistically, while also examining individual differences. One of the big questions we set out to answer is if there are observable trends in how developers perceive this productivity and how they can be potentially used to quantify productivity.

In-Situ Study to Investigate Productive Work Days

We deployed a monitoring application that logs developers’ interaction with the computer (e.g. programs used, user input) and asked 20 professional software developers to run it during 2-3 work weeks. We further asked participants to regularly self-report their perceived productivity, and the tasks and activities they have performed, every 90 minutes.

Corroborating earlier findings, we found that developers spend their time on a wide variety of activities and switch regularly between them, resulting in highly fragmented work. The findings further emphasize how individual developers’ work days are. For example, while some participants tend to span their work days out over as many as 21.4 hours (max), most developers keep more compact work hours, on average 8.4 (SD=1.2) hours per day. From that time, they spend on average 4.3 (SD=0.5) hours on their computer. And surprisingly little of it with development related activities (e.g. coding, testing, debugging): only about 30% of that time. The rest of the work day is split up into emails (15%), meetings (10%), web browsing (work related: 11%, unrelated: 6%) and other activities.

A next step was to investigate fragmentation of work in more details: Apart from meetings, developers remain only between 0.3 and 2.0 minutes in an activity before switching to another one. These very short times per activity and the variety of activities a developer pursues each day illustrate the high fragmentation of a developer’s work. From participant’s self-reported, perceived productivity we found that although there was a lot of variation between individuals, the plots can be categorized into three broad groups: morning people, afternoon people, and those whose perceived productivity dipped at lunch. Morning people often come to work a little bit earlier, and get the most important things done before the crowd arrives. Afternoon people usually arrive later and spend most of their mornings with meetings and emails, and get stuff done in the afternoon, thus feeling more productive then. These results suggest that while information workers in general have diverse perceived productivity patterns, individuals do appear to follow their own habitual patterns for each day.

Can we somehow quantify productivity?

We built explanatory models (stepwise linear regressions) to describe which factors (of the collected data) contributes to the productivity ratings reported by the study participant. We observe that productivity is a personal matter that varies greatly among individuals. There are some tendencies, however, such as that more user input is most often associated with a positive, and emails, planned meetings and work unrelated websites with a negative perception of productivity.

Existing, previous work predominantly focused on a single or small set of outcome measures, e.g. the lines of code or function points written. While these measures can be used across developers, e.g. for comparisons, they neglect to capture the individual differences in factors that impact the way that developers’ work. This suggests that measures or models that attempt to quantify productivity should take the individual differences into account, and what is perceived as productive or not; and capture the developer’s work more holistically, rather than just by a single outcome measure. Such individual models could then be used to provide better and more tailored support to developers, for instance to foster focus and flow at work. For example, we could help developers avoid interruptions at inopportune moments (see our FlowLight), increase the awareness about work and productivity using a retrospective view or help users to schedule a more productive work day, that avoids unproductive patterns as much as possible.

Finally, we examined if we can predict high and low productivity sessions based on the collected data for individual participants, using logistic regression. The results are promising and suggest that even with a relatively small number of reported productivity self-reports, it is possible to build personalized, predictive productivity models.

Contact André Meyer in case you have any questions or suggestions.

seal @ ICSE 2017

We are very happy to announce that our research group got two papers at ICSE 2017 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The first accepted paper is entitled “Analyzing APIs Documentation and Code to Detect Directive Defects” and was written by Yu Zhou, Ruihang Gu, Taolue Chen, Zhiqiu Huang, Sebastiano Panichella and Harald Gall.

Abstract: “Application Programming Interface (API) documents represent one of the most important references for API users. However, it is frequently reported that the documentation is inconsistent with the source code and deviates from the API itself. Such inconsistencies in the documents inevitably confuse the API users hampering considerably their API comprehension and the quality of software built from such APIs.


In this paper, we propose an automated approach to detect defects of API documents by leveraging techniques from program comprehension and natural language processing. Particularly, we focus on the directives of the API documents which are related to parameter constraints and exception throwing declarations. A first-order logic based constraint solver is employed to detect such defects based on the obtained analysis results. We evaluate our approach on parts of well documented JDK 1.8 APIs. Experiment results show that, out of around 2000 API usage constraints, our approach can detect 1146 defective document directives, with a precision rate of 83.1%, and a recall rate of 81.2%, which demonstrates its practical feasibility.”

A preprint of the paper will be available soon.

The second paper is entitled “Recommending and Localizing Code Changes for Mobile Apps based on User Reviews” and was written in collaboration with the University of Salerno. The authors of the paper are: Fabio Palomba, Pasquale Salza, Adelina Ciurumelea, Sebastiano Panichella, Harald Gall, Filomena Ferrucci and Andrea De Lucia.

Abstract: “Researchers have proposed several approaches to extract information from user reviews useful for maintaining and evolving mobile apps. However, most of them just perform automatic classification of user reviews according to specific keywords (e.g., bugs, features). Moreover, they do not provide any support for linking user feedback to the source code components to be changed, thus requiring a manual, time-consuming, and error-prone task.

In this paper, we introduce ChangeAdvisor, a novel approach that analyzes the structure, semantics, and sentiments of sentences contained in user reviews to extract useful (user) feedback from maintenance perspectives and recommend to developers changes to software artifacts. It relies on natural language processing and clustering algorithms to group user reviews around similar user needs and suggestions for change. Then, it involves textual based heuristics to determine the code artifacts that need to be maintained according to the recommended software changes. The quantitative and qualitative studies carried out on 44683 user reviews of 10 open source mobile apps and their original developers showed a high accuracy of ChangeAdvisor in (i) clustering similar user change requests and (iii) identifying the code components impacted by the suggested changes.

Moreover, the obtained results show that ChangeAdvisor is more accurate than a baseline approach for linking user feedback clusters to the source code in terms of both precision +47%) and recall (+38%).”

Also in this case a preprint of the paper will be available soon.

“Reducing Redundancies in Multi-Revision Code Analysis” @ SANER’17

We’re happy to announce that the paper

“Reducing Redundancies in Multi-Revision Code Analysis”

written by Carol V. Alexandru, Sebastiano Panichella and Harald C. Gall, has been accepted into the technical research track of SANER 2017.


Software engineering research often requires analyzing multiple revisions of several software projects, be it to make and test predictions or to observe and identify patterns in how software evolves. However, code analysis tools are almost exclusively designed for the analysis of one specific version of the code, and the time and resources requirements grow linearly with each additional revision to be analyzed. Thus, code studies often observe a relatively small number of revisions and projects. Furthermore, each programming ecosystem provides dedicated tools, hence researchers typically only analyze code of one language, even when researching topics that should generalize to other ecosystems. To alleviate these issues, frameworks and models have been developed to combine analysis tools or automate the analysis of multiple revisions, but little research has gone into actually removing redundancies in multi-revision, multi-language code analysis. We present a novel end-to-end approach that systematically avoids redundancies every step of the way: when reading sources from version control, during parsing, in the internal code representation, and during the actual analysis. We evaluate our open-source implementation, LISA, on the full history of 300 projects, written in 3 different programming languages, computing basic code metrics for over 1.1 million program revisions. When analyzing many revisions, LISA requires less than a second on average to compute basic code metrics for all files in a single revision, even for projects consisting of millions of lines of code.

Use and extend LISA:

Or try out LISA using a simple template: