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How to Measure Throughput for Maximum Results

Last updated on
February 28, 2024


What is Throughput?

Throughput in software development refers to the amount of work completed in a given period of time.

How to measure Throughput?

To measure Throughput, you need to track the number of user stories or tasks completed over a specific period, such as a week or a sprint, and calculate the average. By tracking progress and seeing how much work is being completed over time, teams can better understand their capabilities and plan their workloads accordingly.


How to Measure Throughput for Maximum Results


Measuring throughput is a popular method for tracking progress in software development teams, but it's not a one-size-fits-all solution. In this article, we'll explore the benefits and risks of measuring throughput to help you decide if it's right for your team.

What is throughput?

What is throughput - throughput definition.

Throughput is a way of measuring how much work your team is able to complete in a specific period of time. It's a way of tracking progress and understanding how well your processes are working. 

By keeping an eye on throughput, you can make changes to improve the efficiency of your team’s work. Tracking throughput is like keeping a pulse on the health of the development process. 

Why to measure throughput - benefits

A graphic showing why to measure thrughput and explaining throughput benefits.

Early access to potential efficiency problems

Throughput shows you if your process remains efficient. It’s the first indicator of something going wrong. Then, you can get deeper and look for detailed causes of this problem. By that, you’re continuously making sure you’re on the right path to deliver value to your customers in a timely manner and can prioritize tasks accordingly.

Improved processes

Measuring throughput helps you to identify problems early on and make changes before they become bigger issues. By tracking this metric, you can identify bottlenecks, optimize the workflow, and prioritize tasks effectively. After that, you can make changes to improve efficiency and reduce waste, which entails working in accordance with lean methodology.

Better resource allocation

Throughput helps to determine the amount of work that can be completed in a given time period, which in turn helps to allocate resources effectively.

Enhanced decision-making

By tracking this metric, you can make informed decisions that drive continuous improvement and help you meet your goals.

Throughput risks

A graph showing the risks of measuring and relying on throughput metric.

While measuring throughput has many benefits, there are also some potential risks to keep in mind. Most of all, it's important to understand the context and consider other metrics when interpreting throughput data, in order to make informed decisions.


Focusing solely on throughput can lead to an oversimplification of the complex processes involved in software development. This can result in an incomplete understanding of performance and a failure to identify other key factors that impact development outcomes.


If not properly understood, throughput metrics can be misinterpreted, leading to incorrect conclusions and misguided decisions. 

The issue is that throughput metrics on their own only provide a small piece of information about the overall performance of a system. If they're looked at in isolation, without considering other factors, it's possible to come to incorrect conclusions. 

For example, if you see an increase in throughput, it could be due to an increase in the number of resources or an improvement in processes. If you make decisions based solely on this increase, you might be misled into thinking that you're making progress, when in fact the underlying issues causing problems in the system are still there.

Lack of reference to complexity and size of tasks

Throughput doesn’t incorporate two aspects: complexity and size of tasks. That way, a team still can process tasks of various types, and in that case throughput won’t give much insight into your process.

Incentivizing negative behaviors 

If throughput becomes the primary focus, team members may be incentivized to prioritize speed over quality, leading to decreased productivity and increased errors.

Neglect of important factors

Focusing on throughput to the exclusion of other important factors, such as code quality or collaboration, can lead to an unbalanced approach to software development.

Over-reliance on metrics

Relying too heavily on throughput metrics can result in a lack of attention to other important indicators of performance, such as customer satisfaction and employee engagement.

There’s still need for being conscious while assessing performance

As you for sure already know, assessing the performance of individual developers is controversial. Throughput as a single source of truth also isn't good for that goal since it doesn’t refer to quality and complexity of tasks. That way, developers who complete a lot of small tasks and do it carelessly would have higher results than the ones who deliver the code of the highest quality and work with complex tasks. 

How to measure throughput?

Measuring throughput in software development is all about keeping track of how much work is getting done in a specific time period.

Step 1: Define the unit of work

The first step is to define what constitutes a unit of work in your development process. For example, you may decide that a unit of work is a completed user story, a fixed bug, or a feature that meets acceptance criteria. Whatever you choose, it's important that the definition of a unit of work is consistent and clear for everyone on the team.

Step 2: Track progress

Next, track how many units of work are being completed in a given time period. For example, you might track the number of completed user stories over the course of a sprint, or the number of fixed bugs over the course of a week.

Step 3: Calculate the throughput

Finally, calculate the throughput by dividing the number of units of work completed by the amount of time it took to complete them. For example, if your team completed 20 user stories in a two-week sprint, the throughput would be 20 user stories / 2 weeks. Important: You can’t measure a weekly throughput by dividing this number by 2. For that, you need to assess a week as a separate entity.

Let's look at another example: Suppose you have a development team of 5 people, and they completed a total of 20 user stories in 4 weeks. The team's throughput would be 20 user stories / 4 weeks.

Throughput optimization

Check how metrics analysis helped a financial corporation identify a bottleneck that was causing a 30% performance loss.

Throughput alternatives

Cycle time

Cycle time measures the time it takes for a unit of work to be completed from start to finish. Unlike throughput, which measures the amount of work completed in a given time period, cycle time focuses on the amount of time. This metric is useful for understanding how long it takes to complete a specific task, and can be useful for identifying bottlenecks or inefficiencies in the development process.

Lead time

Lead time is similar to cycle time, but measures the time it takes for a unit of work to go from being requested to being completed. Lead time takes into account the time it takes to plan, prioritize, and start work on a unit of work, as well as the time it takes to complete it. It can be useful for understanding how long it takes to deliver new features or improvements to customers.

A graphic presenting throughput alternatives.

Defect density

Defect density measures the number of bugs or issues per unit of code. Unlike throughput, which measures the amount of work completed, defect density measures the quality of that work. This metric is useful for understanding how reliable and stable the codebase is, and can help identify areas that need improvement.

How to choose

When choosing between these alternatives, it's important to consider the goals and priorities of your development process. 

  • Focus is on delivering work quickly and efficiently: throughput or cycle time.
  • Focus is on the quality of the work being delivered: defect density.
  • Focus is on understanding the time it takes to deliver work to customers: lead time or cycle time.

Mastering the art of throughput measurement

By measuring the number of completed tasks within a given time period, teams can identify bottlenecks and make targeted improvements to increase productivity

Embracing the principles of throughput allows tech companies to optimize their development processes and deliver better results faster, ultimately leading to increased customer satisfaction and a more competitive edge in the market. 

Adopt a throughput-focused mindset, empower your teams to track and improve their performance, and drive your organization towards greater success.

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