VP of Delivery at Relevant Software

How to Run a Successful Software Engineer Performance Review [Template Included]

September 21, 2021

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Whether you are a thriving or struggling tech company, software engineer performance reviews are a necessary evil. 

To improve or make the success sustainable, you need to know how much progress your team has made, how much each team member has grown, what goals they have achieved, and the overall level of developer productivity. This information is essential as it allows the team to work on their strengths and weaknesses to ensure better performance in the future.

But, let’s face it: traditional performance reviews often don’t cultivate good trusting relationships. Do you wish to do performance reviews differently in your software development company, at least in a way that your team won’t loathe the management?

As someone who has been on both ends of performance reviews multiple times, I have a thing or two or twenty to say about software developer performance reviews. By the end of this article, all if not most of your questions will be addressed.

Let’s dive in.

Why are developer reviews important?

A performance review in software engineering is essential. It focuses on both the hard and soft skills of a developer. 

Developer reviews are necessary. Here are reasons why:

  1. An avenue for motivating employees. Developer reviews not only focus on the software developer’s work. The company learns more about the person behind the code. By familiarizing with the engineer’s personality, the company understands effective ways to motivate them to perform better.
  2. It helps build relationships between team members. Performance reviews build trust between team managers and members. It shows that a team manager is interested in not only the developer’s job but also their development and well-being.
  3. Performance reviews increase employee satisfaction. The company’s management takes into account developer feedback during a performance review appraisal. The manager listens to the challenges the engineer might be experiencing, and they work together to solve them. This makes the developer feel valued, resulting in increased productivity and employee retention.
  4. Performance reviews increase developer productivity. When the team leader gives constructive feedback to the software developers, the employees better understand what is expected of them. They take note of the corrections and apply them in consequent jobs. As a result, developer productivity is increased.
  5. Reviews will address misunderstandings on time. By setting up 1:1 assessments and reviews after a significant project misunderstanding, the management can detect and fix any underlying issue the team might have. When left to fester, these minor misunderstandings might escalate to enmity, which is detrimental to the organization’s overall success.
  6. Performance reviews clarify employee roles. Developer goals performance reviews help in clearly defining the roles and goals of each engineer, hence improving the company’s organizational structure. 
The Key Benefits of Software Engineer Performance Review

A recent management survey revealed that 72% of respondents felt their performance would improve with good corrective feedback, making frequent performance appraisals one of the most effective ways to achieve sustainable success. 

But all this knowledge just leads to more questions:

  • What are the metrics to be considered when running a software engineer performance review?
  •  What should be included and avoided in a good performance review?

What metrics are used to measure the developer’s performance?

Organizations consider different factors while picking the ideal metrics for performance reviews. This usually depends on the organizational goals of the software development company.

However, specific metrics cut across organizations due to their relevance in every engineer performance evaluation. They are:

Metrics for Measuring Developers' Performance
  • Projects, a developer worked on/Results. The projects that an engineer has worked on are always considered in performance reviews.
  • How their software works in production. The quality or usability of the finished product is evaluated.
  • Code readability. Ease of code readability is vital. Since changes or modifications in the source code might be needed, a code that other developers can easily read is much appreciated.
  • Teamwork. Software engineers never work alone. An indicator of a good developer is one that can easily relate with his team members.
  • Ability to review code. An engineer that is proficient at reviewing code is always an invaluable addition to every team.
  • Speed of work. High-speed engineers finish projects on time, thus leading to a higher number of completed tasks within a short period.
  • Sustainability of product. The long-term value of the developed product is also assessed.
  • Number of bugs. Programmers that can write code with little or no bugs usually have better reviews.
  • Communication skills. Employees who are good at giving and receiving information, both within the team and their superiors, usually perform better.
  • Responsibility. High-performing software engineers are also willing to take up and carry out responsibilities effectively.
  • Leadership abilities. Software engineers should be able to organize their team members and make accurate decisions without the help or input of the managers.
  • Test coverage. Engineers that give high priority to test coverage usually have high-performance reviews.

These metrics are given varying levels of importance when incorporated into the different types of reviews.

Types of reviews

Software engineer performance evaluations fall into various categories, namely:

Types of Software Engineer Performance Reviews

1. Manager reviews

These are the most common reviews, especially in small-scale organizations. Managers are expected to be incorruptible and consistent in their reviews. They are also supposed to communicate the reason for the review to the team to reduce any friction towards the engineer performance evaluation process.

When giving developer feedback, a manager is also expected to offer solutions to the software engineer’s challenges. That may mean offering tools and resources that allow the developer to, for instance, learn a new programming language, undergo additional training, or take advanced software courses. 

Visit Relevant for additional insightful information that would aid in developing both you and your software team.

The biggest problem managers encounter when conducting a review in software engineering is bias. 

To be fair to all software developers, a manager needs to:

  • Keep roles and competencies in mind while evaluating. Individual members of a team have varying strengths and competencies. Assessing all of the team members with the same standard would be unfair and would impede on the unique strengths of the software engineers. This could easily lead to frustration on the team members and a lack of zeal to work.
  • Decline to review a team or individual you are not very conversant with. There is no shame in admitting that you do not have a strong knowledge of a particular team member’s job description or attitude towards their work. As much as it is a loophole in your managerial abilities, declining to write a review based on limited knowledge rather than carry out one that would be far from the truth is honorable.
  • Avoid situations that could lead to biased reviews. If a manager were against hiring a particular engineer or has some personal issues to settle with a team member, it would be wise to skip the manager review for that team member. Other kinds of reviews can be carried out for that particular team member instead. This is simply to prevent one-sided reviews.

2. Peer reviews

These are the most accurate of all reviews. The reason being, the colleagues in the same software development company as the reviewee carry out the assessment. The reviewer has spent the most time with the team member, and probably worked on the same projects. As such, they are in the best position to assess the reviewee’s capabilities and growth.

Anonymity is a common approach when undertaking peer assessments, especially when the manager feels it would be effective in mitigating bias within his team.

Anonymity encourages openness, increased participation in the reviews and does not threaten workplace relationships. However, due to the lack of accountability, anonymous reviews can be taken lightly by the person being reviewed, and the reviewer can easily be biased. It is also challenging to carry out anonymous reviews within a small team.

3. Self-appraisals

Just like other reviews, bias is a common problem with self-appraisals. People tend to either be overly critical of themselves or excessively confident. Managers need to ensure that they consider the following when creating a self-appraised developer evaluation form:

  • Avoid open-ended questions as this would reduce subjectivity
  • Focus on critical performances of the team members.
  • Focus on concrete results and achievements
  • Always reiterate the company’s goals and assess the developer’s performance based on them.

4. 360-degree assessment

Combining two or more of the evaluations mentioned above will produce the 360-degree assessment. This type of assessment is more comprehensive than the three above because of the diversity of review sources.

It is tabulated and presented as feedback to the software developer undergoing review. However, due to the high amount of sources, this assessment can also be very subjective.

Choosing a suitable developer feedback example: Points to consider

There are multiple software engineer performance review examples available online. Considering there is not a one-size-fits-all approach, consider using an easily customizable template to suit your needs. 

Before picking a suitable performance appraisal for the software developer review template, understand that the review shouldn’t just correct employees. They should also teach and motivate them.

Also, instead of always using software developer annual reviews, consider more frequent assessments. The timeline for annual reviews is too long, and tracking the progress of the developer might be challenging. Instead, they should use weekly check-ins, end-of-project assessments, and quarterly appraisals to monitor the developer’s performance

What are good practices for software engineer performance review?

The three focus points when developing a template for a software engineer review include:

  • The quality of code
  • Speed: How fast a software engineer can code
  • Teamwork: How well he works with other teammates

As much as these three factors are necessary for day-to-day developer activities, they are not very accurate when conducting performance reviews as they ignore the why of the software developer’s job. 

  • Why do they write code?
  • Why are software programs created?

To achieve the best performance practices, there is need to shift perspective to factors more concerned with user experience. Practices that concern;

  • Results: How did your input help in achieving the product’s aim?
  • Sustainability: How long will your product be a solution to the users?
  • Teamwork: How is your input making other teammates improve?

By emphasizing these three practices right from the employment and onboarding stages, team managers can inculcate user experience as a culture amongst engineers. Even when you decide to hire remote developers, ensure they understand the importance of user experience.

What are the challenges of evaluating software engineers? 

In this section, we examine the most common challenges related to developers’ evaluation.

  1. Subjectivity. Achieving an objective performance review for software engineers can be challenging. This is because an engineer’s performance will always depend on the reviewer’s perception of his roles, results, and work attitude. This subjectivity would become helpful in the evaluation if a reviewer pays attention to each team member’s results and individual competencies.
  2. Evaluation as a team or individual. Managers are often tone between reviewing individually or as a team. Reviewing as a team may be unfair to team members that are more pivotal to the team’s success. Also, if you only give performance reviews individually, the unit ceases to be one. This problem can be solved by providing individual goals that help in achieving the overall team objective.
  3. Lack of development activities. Performance appraisals are unnecessary if the organization does not provide development activities for the employees. 

As much as organizations carry out check-ins and assessments, they should also organize programs to help the software engineers perform better. Your job is not just to identify problems but also to help fix them.

How does it work at Relevant?

This may sound surprising, but many employees have no idea of what is actually expected of them at work. The study conducted by Leadership IQ shows that only 29% of workers know if their performance is where it should be. 

According to the study conducted by Leadership IQ, only 29% of workers know if their performance is where it should be.

This may negatively impact the performance of the employees and the company as a whole; therefore, we always try to keep our employees informed and updated.

At Relevant, the performance reviews for junior and middle specialists are conducted twice a year, because this is the average amount of time needed to absorb new responsibilities, gain new skills and show some results. Because senior developers can not grow as fast as junior and middle programmers, they have a performance review once a year so that we can discuss any tangible results.

We think that the key goal of these reviews is to evaluate the current state of developers’ performance, talk about their accomplishments, and point out what they need to improve in the next period.

This allows us to set the correct goals for the next six months (or a year) and create a personal development plan. It is crucial because there are things, bad and good, employees don’t have time to deal with or take note of due to the endless stream of tasks, such as their lack of knowledge in one area or skillful performance in the other. 

The performance review allows developers to see the big picture – to see where they were half a year ago and what they accomplished since then. At performance reviews, we always discuss both achievements and failures of the employees and what they learned from them.

The developer performance review at our company consists of several stages. They are as follows:

Software Engineer Performance Review Stages at Relevant Software
  • Stage 1 – Collecting feedback from the team, the client, and the project manager
  • Stage 2 – Technical review, which is based on the competency matrix 
  • Stage 3 – English proficiency test, which is held in the form of the Panel Interview or Client Interview
  • Stage 4 – А meeting with the HR manager and the project manager, where we discuss their accomplishments over the period, define the direction for growth (either linear, such as from middle to senior developer, or nonlinear, to a manager), and conduct the appraisal.

Let us say a few words about the competency matrix. This matrix is a tool that visualizes the required competencies. It is a very useful tool as, on the one hand, it shows what a specialist needs to master to be called a middle or senior developer, and on the other hand, it helps interviewers minimize the impact of biases. 

While people may often be biased, the matrix objectively shows what a programmer of a particular level of seniority should be able to do and what skills they must have. This tool helps developers evaluate themselves, set accurate goals, and understand the client’s expectations better.

Tips on running an effective programmer performance review

We’ve created a list of tips for you to better prepare for the next performance reviews with your developers:

  1. Set clear, realistic expectations for your review. As a manager, you need to have expectations. What do you expect your team members to learn from the review? Should it motivate them, build trust, or teach them? Clear goals serve as a reference point throughout the review.
  2. Understand the motivations of software engineers. As a manager, you need to know your engineers’ expectations. What do they seek to achieve at the organization? What motivates them? How can your review help them achieve their goal?
  3. Set the goals thoroughly. Understandably, it is not enough to simply point to what developers need to improve in the future. You should set the course for their development considering the results of the reviews, their current projects, and the specialists’ priorities.
  4. Go through previous performance appraisals. Previous appraisals allow you to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the developers before the review period. Make sure that your performance review keeps individual competencies in mind.
  5. Make sure that your team members know their job descriptions perfectly. A clear understanding of their roles would make the review process less tasking.
  6. Coach your team members during the review. The main purpose of a performance review is to improve productivity in the workplace by allowing your engineers to learn and work on their abilities. Do your best to teach them what they aren’t doing right and help them incorporate the necessary changes into their work.
  7. Pay attention to the body language. Some developers are poor communicators, making getting through to them hard. If you have such employees, pay attention to their body language to understand them. By doing so, you know how to communicate better with them.
  8. Write a custom review before using the standard format. Have a rough draft of your review. This would help you organize your findings better when using the standard review format.
  9. Make the conversation pleasant. Another task is to create a friendly atmosphere during the meeting and explain what exactly employees can get out of it. It is not just a compensation review. The more a developer has clarity about the benefits of the performance reviews, the more efficient these reviews will be.
  10. Make performance review a continuous process. The goal here is not to talk once in 6 months and forget about it until the next review. The systematic approach and keeping one’s finger on the pulse is what makes the performance reviews effective.
How to Run an Effective Developer Performance Review: Tips

How to run an effective developer performance review: Template 

Below is a typical developer feedback example. This is a manager’s review of a software engineer’s performance during a specific period. As I stated earlier, there are many software engineer performance review examples online, but you will have to tailor yours to suit your team. 

You could use the template below as a guide.

Performance Review

  • Accomplishments for the Period
    • Project A (Timeline for Project A, e.g., four weeks)
      • State duties the engineer carried out during this particular project.
      • Include problems encountered and solutions implemented during that time.
    • Project B (Timeline for Project B)
      • State the input of the engineer during this project
    • Project C (Timeline)
      • State the engineer’s input in this project
        (Include more projects, timeline, and employee input if applicable) 
  • Expectations:
    State your expectations in regards to the software engineer’s work for the particular period. These expectations need to be in line with their job description.
    State the expectation for each project clearly. That is:
    • Project A: 
      • Develop a functional application software
      • Incorporate geolocation features into software, etc.
  • Impact:
    State the impact the employee’s accomplishments on every project had on:
    • The final product
    • The team
    • The organization as a whole.
  • Feedback:
    Give a thorough assessment of the engineer’s general performance during the period. Base your feedback on the following:
    • Software Engineering
    • Design and Architecture
    • Execution and Results
    • Creating Efficiency
    • Collaboration/ Teamwork
    • Creativity
      While giving feedback:
    • Rate the employer’s performance under each of the sections named above. 
    • Apart from pointing out problems, also include solutions and suggestions that would help the engineer.
  • Strengths
    State 3 to 5 areas where the engineer shows outstanding performance.
  • Areas of improvement
    State 3 to 5 areas where the engineer still needs to work on.
  • Summary
    Give a summary of the entire performance evaluation.
  • Areas to prioritize in the future
    Give your suggestion on areas of development the engineer should focus on going forward. Do this based on their strengths, weaknesses as well as the organization’s future goals.

Wrapping up

A successful performance review is one of the moving parts to ensure the longevity of a software development company. It is not only efficient with your in-house team but also comes in handy when managing distributed teams.

At Relevant, we provide software development solutions for companies in sectors such as Fintech, real estate, retail, construction, and travel. We hope that our overview is helpful to your team and if you need additional software developers or engineers, feel free to get in touch with us.

We are a result-oriented organization, and our primary concern is that our clients receive impeccable services. If you need to hire a software development team, we will provide well-trained professionals with comprehensive experience in programming and digital solutions.

Head on down to our blog for more articles on technology and management, or get in touch with us to help you with your IT projects.


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VP of Delivery at Relevant Software
I ensure delivery excellence and high-quality of software development services our company provides. We carefully pick each employee and stick to high standards of product development to ensure the highest quality of code.

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