Key metrics needed to measure agile success
Agile metrics are of critical importance in measuring the success of an agile initiative
When asked about agile metrics and measuring the success of agile initiatives, I once would have said that teams should focus primarily on two areas: on-time delivery and product quality (with relation to customer satisfaction). But today’s business environment has changed and everyone within the organization – from the boardroom to the PMO to individual agile team members – are changing with it.
Don’t get me wrong–as you’ll see in the list below, those agile metrics are still of critical importance in measuring the success of an agile initiative. But first and foremost, today’s agile teams need to ensure they’re delivering solutions in line with overall corporate goals. And those are changing more rapidly than ever. After all, what’s the benefit of delivering solutions on time and on point, if they fail to deliver sufficient value to the business and the customer?
Case in point: An agile team in a medium-sized software company prioritizes developing a new feature for their platform during their quarterly planning meeting. In true agile form, goals are set, milestones are identified and people with the appropriate skills are added to the team. The team works diligently to ensure they remain on track and the wheels of the agile process turn like a finely tuned machine. Their team planning had every appearance of driving to a successful conclusion.
However, two weeks prior to release, the company announces they’re discontinuing the product line to focus resources on other initiatives. As you can see, no matter how well designed and executed the project, it’s all for naught when it doesn’t deliver perceived value to the business. This waste of time and effort could have been avoided if the new product development effort had aligned with the company’s strategic vision. It is important during planning to include all of the players – from executives to sales, not just your own team.
So, here are five agile metrics for measuring the success of agile programs, in order of importance:
All agile initiatives must directly align with your company’s key business objectives. Value can be easy to ascertain when, for example, contracts are already in place that require specific deliverables and include penalties if they aren’t delivered within a specific timeframe. But rarely are things so clearly defined. More often, you’ll be measuring value to the business with outcome-focused KPIs like customer growth, customer acquisitions, customer retention, increase in market share and incremental revenue increases. These forward-looking indicators change rapidly as market conditions evolve, so make sure all KPIs remain supportive of the corporate strategy.
Still probably the most popular way of measuring agile initiative success, on-time delivery is the goal of virtually every product manager.Meeting time-to-market commitments leads to increased competitive advantage and greater market confidence. This is where out-of-the-box burn down and burn up charts provide key metrics and acute visibility. Burndown charts graphically illustrate the work left to be done versus the amount of time left to accomplish it. This is useful for predicting project completion dates and helping to ensure the project remains on schedule. Burn up charts illustrate how much of the work has been completed with regard to the total amount of work. Each helps to ensure on-time delivery.
While it can be a challenge, many organizations opt to measure agile success through product quality. Some argue that quality can be ascertained through revenue increases and customer feedback, but these may not necessarily reflect the quality of the product. These are seen as “soft metrics” that can be influenced by many factors. Instead, rely on the hard metrics provided by continuous testing throughout the development lifecycle. Automated continuous testing and delivery provides actionable metrics that can drive continuous product improvement. Defect tracking charts show defect totals over time, amount of time to resolve the issue and provide evidence of quality and responsiveness when used appropriately.
Tightly linked to product quality, customer satisfaction can be used to gauge agile initiative success. There are multiple ways of measuring this. Increases in sales can be an indicator, but it’s important to consider other ancillary factors that may be impacting revenue changes. Monitoring the number of support calls might also lend insight, but again, peripheral causes must be considered. For the clearest visibility into customer satisfaction, combine Net Promoter scores with relevant usage statistics that illustrate how customers are actually using the product, and how that usage has changed since the initiative was completed.
Visibility is another measurable component that reaches across the enterprise. While it’s essential for the agile team to be able to see and track exactly how the work is progressing, making relevant data available to everyone builds trust through transparency and provides actionable insight—for everyone. Financial managers can adjust projections according to real-time data; resource managers can better plan for future work; executive management can make better informed portfolio decisions and set more precise expectations for investors. Everyone wins with visibility, so the goal is to ensure everyone has the visibility they need.
It may be tempting to collect metrics on every aspect of the work, but that often results in just another data management headache. Resist the urge and don’t make this more difficult than it needs to be. Decide which methods of measuring success will best benefit your organization and at the same time clearly demonstrate the value of your agile teams. By concentrating on these specific areas, you will be able to tailor your metrics to those which offer your organization the greatest value. Where are you in your agile journey? If you do not know how to get started or feel stuck you can speak with one of our agile coaches.