Software developer performance reviews 2.0: more fulfilling, cost-effective

When was the last time you sat down with your partner or mother and gave them a really fair and objective yearly performance review?

Make sure to frame the negatives along with the positives and use concrete examples: I like the fact that you cook but that pie could be less burnt and with more sugar. I’m hoping you’ll improve by Q3.

Traditional performance reviews are not suitable for forming good trusting relationships.

Tech employers need to rethink their performance management systems given the changing needs of the workplace. Fully 70 percent of Deloitte survey respondents stated that they are either “currently evaluating” or have recently “reviewed and updated” their performance management systems.

Digis companies rethinking performace mangement statistics
Source: Deloitte.

Software developer performance review is something not always working in the way it should. At the same time, it is a common practice in tech companies where you have a dev team. Here we explain how you can make it motivating for employees while spending fewer company resources to perform it.

Why your team needs an effective performance review

  • one of the most important assets for your company is its people
  • when your developers are engaged with their work, it will lead to better work quality
  • more trust inside a team and company as a whole
  • higher productivity reduces costs 
  • customer satisfaction increases through faster software improvements
  • employee retention
  • all this gives you a direction to achieve your organizational goals by linking them to individual employee goals.
Find the best tech talent for your project Without the need for a long and expensive hiring process and messing around with freelancers.

The process

Software engineers should assess themselves, get regular feedback from a client, project manager, and team members. The client assesses if the employee meets its expectations. From software engineer peer review, you will know how much they like to work with those people. Folks usually like people who are reliable, fair, knowledgeable and get things done. 

Each employee should receive weekly and by milestone/finishing a task 1:1 feedback from their managers and at least quarterly — from the client and peers. 

Start with growth as early as possible

When you just hire and onboard a software engineer, ask them to set and negotiate their work goals and when they are planning to achieve them. If you want performance reviews to actually matter, give people space and freedom to explore interests without being focused solely on business growth.

Information about software engineer to analyze

  • Previous feedback
  • Projects the engineer worked and is working on
  • Output produced: code, documentation, emails
  • Interaction with others, the feedback they’ve given
  • Self-review: what have they collected on their work?

Communicating software developer performance appraisal

Ther best ‘performance review’: regular 1:1 meetings and conversations between team leaders and team members when a project is finished. They should be informal and friendly while keeping in mind set seniority levels in your company. That is:

Hard skills: If they were involved in the design/architecture of key components (code, DB design, UI, performance, security, et. al.) then check if those components meet the original (or modified during development) business & design requirements. 

Soft skills: their contribution to the team effectiveness; how they share their knowledge with others; how they mentor younger less experienced team members so they can contribute more effectively to the project; how they adapt to changes during the project; how open they are to other team members suggestions.

Finalizing your reviews always provide examples and specific feedback for improvement, make it clear where this person is against their level.

Ask for an employee feedback

Wrapping up, I ask them to reflect on the review with questions like “How do you feel?”, “What was the most surprising part?”, “What part do you disagree with?”.

In case the software developer doesn’t agree with the review, then collect feedback and discuss it again with the employee, project manager, client, peers. 

Software developer performance review 2.0 example

Might be just in the format of a group or personal message:

  • If there is a clear task — draw it perfectly.
  • Speed of completion — absolutely OK.
  • Is able to switch between tasks if there are more immediate ones.

Tech leaders’ example


Each review consists of a self-assessment, a set of peer reviews, and if you’re applying for a promotion, reasons why this employee should be promoted to the next level. Each review component is submitted via an online tool. 

Google’s most important factor is peer reviews. The company made a very deliberate decision to place more stress on the collective views of peers, rather than the singular opinion of a manager. For peer reviews, employees are expected to choose around 3-8 peers (fellow engineers, product managers, or others that can comment on their work) to write their peer reviews.


The company’s performance rating is based on self-appraisal, leadership feedback and Program head review. The KPIs are given for the year and engineers work to meet those goals.


Either an employee or a manager may request a “check-in” every three months. The goal is to make coaching and developing a continuous, collaborative process between managers and employees.

For high performers, suggestions for practical improvement are offered. Lower performers also receive advice to increase their pay and benefits through group performance evaluation with more rational determinations of individual compensation.

Since rolling out the new approach worldwide, Adobe experienced a 30 percent reduction in voluntary turnover in a highly competitive talent environment.

Netflix and HubSpot have abandoned the traditional annual performance review cycle, replacing it with ongoing feedback and coaching designed to promote continuous employee development.

Performance review tips 

  • Acknowledgment of achievements is just as important as a numeric rating and the numbers. If you see that an engineer is trying hard but still completes their tasks, not in the best possible way, prioritize positive feedback
  • Giving feedback and compensation decisions should be separated
  • More specifics in the review. Constructive feedback for software engineer instead of “Good work” or “Keep doing what you’re doing”
  • Teach managers to give better feedback that will drive improvement rather than drive employees to look for possibilities outside the organization
  • Use performance management to build skills. Turn the reviews in the form of practical steps employees can take and the skills necessary to reach the next level of achievement within the organization.

Take into account all possible factors. A developer’s performance is influenced by such things as work, size of the team, their level. Try to avoid such situations as if people get the job done and everyone happy then they are doing great (even if they are not) and if the team was given an impossible task and failed (expectedly) then performance is bad. Developer progress on a project with new and groundbreaking technology cannot be compared to one utilizing/reusing existing tech.

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