Cookbook for meaningful metrics in an Agile organization

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Agile metrics are an essential component of a high performing Agile organization. A great metric challenges teams to be better if surrounded in the right mindset. Metrics are there in different phases effort, output, outcome and on different levels in the organization.  

Creating agile organizations is the default answer to today’s increasing complexity and product development velocity; so much that required transitions become a goal in itself, rather than a means to an end. As such some best practices are implemented at will, without proper context. 

The challenge we see, is that throughout such transitions, it is imperative that for all sorts of stakeholders, there is value to be delivered captured in relevant metrics, to assess progress. 

As the transformation journey progresses, the metrics need to support the maturity phase of the organization at hand. If this sounds complicated, we do this in practice all the time. If you think about the ability to for example light matches is not something we want to measure with young children. But when they grow up, we love it when they want to cook us a meal, by lighting the stove as a first step. So the metric “ability to light a fire” is not one with a relevant meaning in the early stages of maturity. 

And then there is the element of stakeholders, often assessing “value” on different axes. From a market or customer perspective, the ability to adopt a product early to gain efficiencies may be more important than whether the team that delivers is planning sufficient improvements to remain efficient themselves, or even technologically relevant. And other stakeholders include internal staff or teams, portfolio, process improvements, innovation. 

We believe there are no shortcuts here, an organization is a living species, and its parts, its people, need to walk the transformation path for them to learn and progress in the process. There is no on-size fits all “check-list”, but we believe there are three generic phases: 

  • Effort 
  • Output 
  • Outcome 

In the effort phase, it is about “the right to play”, more focused internally, requiring metrics to demonstrate a level of stability. Examples include “predictability” on a portfolio level, or “epic burndown” on a team level. 

In the output phase, as maturity is growing, customer focus is increasing. Metrics include “Defects”, or even “Business Agility”. 

When the rhythm is there, the next logical step is focusing on outcome. NPS and Employee engagement are typical metrics in this phase. 

One needs to understand the introduction of a metric that is suitable for the outcome phase, does not serve well if the basics are not in good order. You don’t want to measure the child on his ability to light a match.  

So what does a great metric look likeA great metric challenges teams to be better. Though such metric can set a big hairy and audacious goal (BHAG) – the goal needs to be achievable to be motivatingon an organization level, an overarching North-Star metric to which the underlying metrics contribute, can serve as a means for teams to contribute to the overall organization goals. 

Metrics are not blind dials to sail by; leaders need to provide context and safety for teams to learn and grow. By having a conversation standup or Obeya, supporting the teams to find and solve their impediments. If leaders use metrics to judge, this will lead to undesired behavior of the teams.  

So here are five tips: 

  1. Recognize the maturity phase and apply metrics that fit that phase; 
  2. Don’t sail blindfolded on your dialsbe aware of context and as such not just one metric will tell the full story; 
  3. Emphasize the opportunity to learn by having the right conversations; metrics are not a managers tool, they are for teams to support their maturity growth; 
  4. Nothing beats a good conversation with the team; a metric can be a starting point, not an accountability gate for the team to pass.  
  5. Teams need to feel safe to be able to learn and grow 

The result will be beneficial to all stakeholders.  

In a next episode, we will break a lance for an Agile Manifesto for meaningful measuring.

Part 1: Cookbook for meaningful metrics
Part 2: Manifesto for Agile meaningful measuring with the right mindset
Part 3: Overview of Agile metrics on each organization level and maturity phase

Written by David Warnink & Jeroen Stoter

Written By Jeroen Stoter

Jeroen Stoter schrijft graag over transformaties, scaling en leiderschap.

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