Agile Metrics – Five Ways To Get Them Right

By / January 22, 2016 /

For the last few years, we’ve collaborated with dozens of talented teams in multiple industries. We frequently work with agile team members and managers to create reports during (and after) the completion of the project. By observing different methodologies used by companies, we quickly realized that while some of the Agile ideas are implemented, the other Agile Principles and Values (the more uncomfortable ones) are readily ignored and sadly forgotten. It becomes apparent once we look at the kind of reporting systems that most employees use…

How about dashboards that depict the velocity of multiple teams? Or maybe the all time classic graph showing time spent on project by each team member? Not to forget about the quality reporting tools, and the snapshot that shows what percentage of the product backlog has been completed so far. It all sounds nice until the problem with backlog completion begins to appear…

Let’s be honest. We’ve all used mentioned reports at some point in our agile endeavors. Oftentimes, there are important reasons and hard logic standing behind them. Yet quite often, the results are far from what we might expect and using these tools lead to torture of the numbers so that they fit our own agendas. This, and the fear of failure touches every agile team member somewhere along the way.

Nearly all of the measuring tools can be used either for good or for the bad. So what’s the secret to developing good metrics that will actually help in making honest progress towards getting the job done?

Here are five best tips you can use to make the agile metrics work for you:

Make them readily available.

That one seems rather obvious but it’s quite common for team members to generate reports and not share them with others. I understand that not all reports need to be widely distributed, but unless they contain some confidential data, you should share them with the whole ensemble – The Team, Stakeholders, Managers and sometimes even your clients.

Get more visual with your reports.

Use shapes, graphs, mind maps, underlinings and colors around the usual table of cryptic digits. This idea is worth trying for three reasons – it makes the whole thing easier to read, it makes people focus on the right thing, and it sparks some interesting conversations.

Take notice of trends.

This bit of advice works very well with the previous point. A useful metric should easily show if things are going in the right direction. In general, noticing trends helps you to figure out if what you’re doing is bringing the expected results (and lets you know when there is a visible need for change in your approach).

Select the right metrics for the right purposes.

As you may know, in agile methodology there are scores of metrics to follow – burn downs, burn ups, cumulative flow, cycle time, velocity etc. All these metrics should be updated regularly – fixing them spasmodically just won’t cut it. The same thing goes for all other agile metrics. Creating reports and measuring productivity long after the work is done is a fool’s game. We should appreciate the power of “the present” and work with metrics that depict the current situation accurately.

Think about what you’re trying to accomplish.

All the reports that you produce should show only the essential information. If you’re unable to explain or answer questions about some parts of the report – why bother to create it in the first place? You should always provide answers to two basic questions. Firstly, what is the purpose of the report? Secondly, how should we proceed when the report shows that we’re far behind with our plan?

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