In today’s fast-paced business environment, it’s becoming increasingly crucial for technology leaders to reassess their Agile practices. The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of speed and agility in getting products and services to market faster. Organizations that can adapt to change quickly will have the highest likelihood of succeeding through uncertain times.
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Agile metrics are vital to helping organizations productivity and make more informed decisions across each stage of the product delivery process. By evaluating Agile metrics, leaders can optimize for more favorable business outcomes and make data-driven decisions.
However, it’s essential to understand what Agile metrics are and how they are applied to achieve business value. This article gives a brief overview of the Agile methodology and reviews the top Agile metrics for leadership.
What is Agile Methodology?
Agile methodology is a project management approach that development teams use to navigate dynamic targets and uncertainties accompanying the development of new software delivery. It focuses on iterative, incremental product delivery—meaning that teams deliver work frequently rather than all at once and in small, usable packets of end-to-end functionality.
Many of the ideas behind Agile emerged in the 1970s as alternatives to traditional approaches to project development. But the term “Agile” in software development was first popularized by The Agile Manifesto in 2001, which outlines twelve principles based on four critical tenets.
Agile models – Scrum
The Agile Scrum model is a well-known methodology used to manage work in software development for teams of three to nine. It has gained significant popularity due to its effectiveness. To coordinate multiple Scrum teams in larger organizations, there are several approaches like Large-scale Scrum (LeSS) and the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe).
Put simply, Scrum is an agile way to manage work. Every two to four weeks (i.e., sprint), teams deliver a fully functional chunk of work (I.e., an increment). Feedback is received for each delivery and used by teams and the business to determine what to build next or how to adapt what they’ve already built. These events then repeat every sprint.
Agile models – Kanban
The Kanban Method is a highly effective way to design, manage, and enhance the workflow of a development process. With this method, organizations can take advantage of their existing workflow and gradually improve it by visualizing the flow of work, limiting the number of tasks in progress, reducing waste, increasing efficiency, and focusing on completing the work.
The Kanban Method is especially useful when work arrives unpredictably or when a team wishes to deploy work as soon as it’s ready without waiting for other work items. One common term for systems that use the Kanban Method is “flow.” This refers to how work continuously moves through the system instead of being organized into specific timeboxes. This approach to metrics is similar to the one used in the more contemporary Flow Framework.
Benefits of Agile Methodology
Agile methodologies have become increasingly popular among organizations seeking to improve team performance, customer satisfaction, and project versatility. Using Agile metrics for leadership has proven to be highly beneficial and offers advantages that would be difficult to achieve otherwise. Here are some of the key benefits:
- Increased visibility. Leaders can more easily track team performance and make informed decisions by having better visibility into what’s being done and when. They can identify any areas where progress is slower than expected and take steps to address these issues quickly. Additionally, greater transparency into work progress can help promote a culture of accountability, where team members take ownership of their tasks and responsibilities.
- Increased adaptability. The Agile methodology is designed to help organizations break down complexity and reduce dependency, improving their ability to adapt to changes. Agile teams achieve this through iterative development, i.e., planning and completing work in small increments, which enables them to shift priorities quickly when necessary.
- Increased alignment. One of the fundamental principles of Agile is alignment in promoting increased adaptability. This alignment has both internal and external components. Internal alignment begins with the formation of organized Agile teams empowered to execute with autonomy. This empowerment allows Agile teams to be self-organizing, with team members taking ownership of their work and collaborating effectively. The external alignment component involves prioritizing customers and their needs, typically achieved through regular feedback.
- Increased product quality. Agile has revolutionized the way IT organizations approach software deployment and updates. In the past, organizations often spent millions of dollars upgrading their software to newer versions. This approach was often time-consuming and complex, requiring significant resources and disrupting daily operations. Today, thanks to the simplifying nature of Agile, organizations are increasingly paying for applications via subscription. This model simplifies initial software deployment and update delivery, allowing organizations to deploy new software quickly without disrupting their operations.
- Increased customer satisfaction. The Agile approach promotes continuous customer alignment, which allows teams to quickly and easily adapt to changing customer needs and priorities. By focusing on delivering value to customers, Agile teams can drive innovation and foster a culture of continuous improvement. This customer-centric approach helps organizations build stronger customer relationships and differentiate themselves in the market.
- Decreased risk. The points above demonstrate Agile’s ability to reduce a company’s financial risk over time while maximizing output quality. The risk of losing talent is becoming increasingly important to organizations in today’s economic environment. Poor, ineffective planning can cause employee burnout, leading to lower engagement, poor quality of work, and higher turnover. Agile can be an effective method to drive up engagement. Streamlining work will help companies retain their best talent.
The numerous benefits of Agile can have a powerful impact on business outcomes, but achieving those benefits requires insight into Agile metrics. These metrics help development teams and the business measure productivity, work quality, and predictability at every stage of the development process. A key focus of agile metrics is on the value delivered to customers. Instead of measuring “what” or “how much” is being done, Agile metrics measure how customers are being impacted.
What are the Best Agile Metrics for Leadership?
At the heart of Agile is the drive to develop a better product or service through a better process. Agile metrics give insight into the performance of a team or group of teams. They are meant to help teams analyze their productivity and effectiveness through different stages of their software development lifecycle.
Agile metrics – which analyze performance during distinct time periods – borrow some metrics from Lean, which measures performance in a continuous workflow. The result is a set of essential metrics that leadership can use to optimize the performance of their value stream.
Agile metrics are not meant to replace business metrics (such as revenue, customer responsiveness, and retention) but rather be used in conjunction with them. The most essential Agile metrics for leadership are discussed below.
Velocity is a performance metric commonly used in agile software development methodologies to track a team’s progress over time. It measures the amount of work a team completes during a specific period, such as a sprint, and is usually measured in story points per sprint.
Why velocity matters
The purpose of measuring velocity is to help teams improve their planning and estimation processes and track their progress over time. By measuring how many work items can be completed during a specific period, teams can better understand their work capacity and adjust their plans accordingly. Tracking velocity can help teams identify areas where they may be struggling and take corrective action to improve their performance.
Cycle time is a metric used to measure the time it takes for a team to complete a piece of work from the moment it enters their work in progress (WIP) queue until it is completed. This metric helps teams understand how long it takes for work to move through their process and identify areas for improvement.
Why cycle time matters
Measuring cycle time is an efficient and flexible way to improve a team’s processes because the results of changes are immediately discernable, allowing them to make any further adjustments immediately. The end goal is to have consistent cycle times of acceptable length, regardless of the type of work (e.g., new features, technical debt, etc.).
Lead time is a metric used to measure the total time it takes for work to move through a value stream, from when the work is requested to when it’s delivered. It provides a comprehensive view of the entire process and includes all the time that work spends sitting in queues or wait states and the time it takes to complete the work.
Lead time measures the duration from the beginning of a process to the end, including any intermediate steps or activities required to complete the work. It considers both process and waiting time, making it a more accurate and complete measure of the time it takes to deliver work.
Why lead time matters
By tracking lead time metrics over a set period, teams can determine the impact of any changes they make. It also allows leaders to track the efficiency of a team’s workflow. Lead time helps teams become more predictable by quantifying the probability of the percentage of work that will get done in a particular time frame.
Cumulative flow (Flow Load®)
Cumulative flow represents the team’s WIP as it flows through a system. It is often visualized using a cumulative flow diagram (CFD), which shows the cumulative amount of work at each stage of the process over time. In the Flow Framework, cumulative flow is also called Flow Load®. It is a key metric for tracking the amount of work in progress and the rate at which work flows through the system.
Why cumulative flow matters
Cumulative flow visualizes the team’s work and helps project managers track progress and identify potential bottlenecks. By analyzing the CFD, project managers can calculate work completion rates and identify areas where the flow of work is slowing down or getting stuck.
Epic and release burndown
Epic and release burndown charts are two commonly used agile project management tools that help track progress on larger bodies of work. These charts provide a visual representation of the completion of work over time and help teams identify what work remains to be completed.
Why epic and release burndown matter
Tracking epic and release burndown can help Agile Release Trains (ARTs) understand how accurately they are forecasting by comparing them to the control chart – a crucial part of predictability. It can also help to reinforce the idea of not committing to unplanned work within an epic, which can further encourage teams to sustain their agility.
Which Metric is Right for You?
Leaders can apply agile performance metrics depending on their desired goals. Success criteria help define each requirement, such as user adoption rate or percentage of code covered. These success criteria should feed into your program’s Agile metrics. The more teams learn, the better they can adapt and evolve.
For example, suppose the project wants to improve the delivery capabilities of the software development team. In that case, cycle time measurement can track the time it takes a work item to go from the commitment point to deployment. Measuring cycle time for this purpose is a great place to start because it provides actionable insights that feed directly into established success criteria.
It is equally important to avoid making common mistakes that can prevent you from achieving your desired goals. Some of these mistakes include the following:
- Focusing on the wrong metrics: Focus on tracking metrics relevant to the project’s goals and objectives. For example, tracking the number of lines of code written may not be as important as tracking customer satisfaction or the number of defects found.
- Not considering the context of the data: Agile metrics should be evaluated in the context of the project, team, and organization. An important metric for one project may be irrelevant for another.
- Not using metrics to drive continuous improvement: Use Agile metrics based on their intended purpose, which is to identify areas for improvement and make adjustments to the process. If metrics are not used this way, they can become meaningless numbers.
- Not considering the impact on team morale: Using Agile metrics should not come with undue pressures on the team. Measuring velocity in a team that isn’t big or experienced enough to handle velocity targets may seem unfair and can negatively impact team morale and engagement.
Using Agile metrics can provide valuable insights and information for Agile leaders looking to improve their teams’ performance and efficiency. Enhanced transparency and improved predictability are vital in promoting your organization’s agility and resilience.
Ultimately, while Agile metrics for leadership will have a net positive effect on your organization’s bottom line, they will also improve employee engagement and customer satisfaction in the long run. And because it enables the implementation of changes iteratively without disruption, you can continue to experiment with innovation but with minimal waste.