Your Code Review Policy Doesn't Matter

We are not Full Time Equivalents on a spreadsheet

November 15, 2023

Recently at work we’ve instituted a change to require code review by default. The merge request owner can disable the review requirement in GitLab but the intention is to always review. Some co-workers think this change is great, others worry about the additional overhead and loss of velocity.

I used to think stuff like this matters - I don’t anymore. Moreover I don’t think you believe it either.

Try this thought experiment: think of a time you were part of a high performing software project. Now ask yourself: would a different code review policy have substantially changed the outcome?

This is not to say that code review isn’t useful, it can be. But when we think about the factors that drive high performance, it’s not important. So what is important?

At their core, high performing teams have a shared vision that they are excited to manifest. Everything else (a sense of urgency, high trust etc) seems to be derived from there.

I think most of us understand what’s involved in creating a project vision, it’s the excitement part that harder to pin down.

One way to make a vision more exciting is to crank up the ambition. For example instead of:

The v2 conversion funnel project will revamp the branding and simplify the steps of the customer funnel.


The v2 conversion funnel project will create the best customer onboarding experience in our industry.

This is no side quest. There’s a feeling of frontier, of the challenge of encountering and overcoming new problems to create a magical experience for customers. And of winning. The team members tell themselves “this is work that matters”.

It would be a mistake to study how this project team does code review to learn “what works”. That’s like confusing a symptom for the disease. The team will do whatever they think is necessary in service of the vision, and code review may have helped them a lot, or not much.

To do great things, we have to see ourselves for what we really are. We are not commodities. We are not Full Time Equivalents on a spreadsheet. So forget about the code review policy, and focus on contributing to exciting visions that make the World better. And we’ll all be happier for it.

Tags: code-review project-management