Metrics in an Agile organization are not magic in itself. The magic is in the behavior of people and especially leadership acting on the metric. Our Agile Manifesto for meaningful metrics helps in making the preferred behavior visible by focusing on dialogue, the trend and the coherence in the numbers.
Following our first article on Agile metrics “Cookbook for meaningful Agile metrics”, we promised to break a lance for an Agile Manifesto for meaningful measuring. We believe that Agile metrics are an essential component of a high performing Agile organization. Agile metrics help Agile teams and their management measure the effort, output and outcome. Value delivered to customers – instead of measuring “what” or “how much” we are doing, is the most powerful.
In our first article we explained that the metrics must support the maturity phase the organization is in. We also pointed out that leaders need to have the right conversations and context:
By measuring, agile metrics help keep the different levels in the organization in check whether there are any problems or opportunities for improvement. They also give a clear assessment of the current state.
We have seen companies where management wants to use for example cost per story point as a standard measurement across teams; or management tries a one-size fits-all and forces all the teams use the same point measurements.
This invariable leads to anti-patterns which always prove to be harmful. Remember, like velocity, it’s never valid to compare the cost per story points between teams. Every team is composed of unique individuals with their own set of capabilities, work habits, strengths, and weaknesses. As a consequence, teams will invariably have different results in their estimates, velocity, and cost per story point. Fixed reports that are not tailored towards the specific needs of the team, it’s maturity and organizational level will not help all teams to learn, grow and improve. This does not imply that such a metric cannot be helpful for one specific team if the context is right!
This is where we want to introduce a Manifesto for Agile meaningful measuring; while there is value in the items on the right, there is more value in the items on the left.
Agile Manifesto for meaningful measuring
Dialogue about the why over Judging People
To enable learning and growth, a safe environment to make mistakes and learn from them is key for teams to open up and face the opportunities to improve. Data without context can turn out to be nothing more than noise and distraction. The role of a leader is to support the teams to understand the direction and facilitate them and help remove their impediments.
Nothing beats a good conversation with the team; a metric can be a starting point, not an accountability gate for the team to pass
Coherence and Trends over Maximizing one metric
Viewing all metrics in conjunction is important to avoid increasing fixation on improving one number. This creates more space to research the core problems in order to arrive at solutions that positively improve multiple metrics. The last number of the metric does not say much, following trends gives room to react to the pattern Don’t sail blindfolded on your dials; be aware of context and as such not just one metric will tell the full story.
Realtime and Transparent over Fixed Reporting
Transparency is one of the pillars in an Agile organization; this also applies to measuring. Therefore make all metrics public, irrespective of their level. This is a clear indication of transparency and underpins what you are steering towards as manager. Working with the Obeya room methodology can help. With the current techniques this can be done in real time and on a daily basis, aimed at supporting the employees. It prevents you from steering on monthly reports afterwards because you are then too late or the picture is not up to date. The value of a fixed report is therefore low in a complex, fast organization.
Outcome over Effort
A North star metric can be a great metric for all organizational levels to define and measure their own contribution to the overall goal. When a team or organizational level matures, the basic “hygiene” is in order, the “right to play” has been established. Growing through “Output” towards “Outcome” oriented performance and related metrics is a rewarding journey for all stakeholders.
In general, we prefer leading indicators over lagging indicators.
To close this episode, here are five tips how a good metric looks like (source)
- The metric is used by the team – Agile metrics should not be imposed or measured by management, they should be used voluntarily by agile teams to learn and improve.
- The metric is surrounded by conversation – Metrics should not just be numbers, they should be the starting point of a conversation about process and roadblocks affecting the team.
- The metric is part of a specific experiment – Metrics should be used to answer a specific question about agile processes, not just measured for the sake of measurement.
- The metric is used in tandem with other metrics – Even a great metric, if used alone, might lead to tunnel vision, and incentivize teams to maximize that metric at the expense of all else. Using several metrics together provides a balanced picture of agile activity.
- The metric is easy to calculate and understand – Metrics that are overly complex or not fully understood, even if they provide good insights about a team’s work, are not useful in guiding day-to-day activities.
In the next episode, we will bring it all together by linking organizational levels to maturity.
Written by David Warnink and Jeroen Stoter