How Does One Measure Agile-Lean Product Development Progress or Results?

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Summary:

Every project measures progress using metrics (or at least should). Agile is no exception and powerful techniques exist within agile to track and measure your project’s progress. However, agile goes a step further by regularly using metrics to adapt and improve with the constant goal of how we can be better today.

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading ."

-  Lao-Tzu

Every project measures progress using metrics (or at least should). Agile is no exception and powerful techniques exist within agile to track and measure your project’s progress. However, agile goes a step further by regularly using metrics to adapt and improve with the constant goal of how we can be better today. An understanding of how to gather relevant information and interrupt the information becomes essential for Agile continuous improvement.

Knowledge Work and Knowledge Workers
More than fifty years ago, Peter Druker in his 1957 book  Landmarks of Tomorrow , outlined the challenges he saw for future managers and executives. He concluded that learning how to manage “knowledge work” and “knowledge workers” would be the key management challenge of the next century. He described knowledge work as work that is done in the workers’ head instead of with their hands. He concluded that knowledge work would be the most critical and the highest-valued form of labor. How prophetic he was.

Agile product development is knowledge work. Jurgen Appelo in his book  Management 3.0 – Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile (Appelo, 2011) targets developers, designers, architects, business analysts, testers, and all other types of Agile product (system-software) creators as knowledge workers. 

Along the same lines, Mary and Tom Poppendieck, in their book  Leading Lean Software Development – Results Are Not The Point (Poppendieck, 2009)  , insightfully tell us: “In knowledge work, success comes entirely from people and the system within which they work. Results are not the point. Developing the people and the system so that together they are capable of achieving successful results is the point.”

Since Agile product development is knowledge work done by knowledge workers, how does one measure the performance of agile product development teams?

The Measure of a Man (or Woman)
The use of measurements and metrics seems like a straight forward distinction but deserves some discussion. These terms are often used interchangeably, yet have very different applications. Generally, a measure is an operation for assigning a number to something. A metric is our interpretation of the assigned number.

For example, when I was a child my mom would have me take off my shoes and stand with my back flat up against the back-side of an open door with my head flat and eyes looking straight ahead. My mom would use a ruler mark my current height on the doorframe with my initials and the current date. We would then interpret the number obtained where she placed my initials as my height. Height in this case is a metric. We would do this periodically and I could compare one measurement and metric to another and see just how much taller I was getting. This was also done with my siblings and we compared our height to one another. Oh, the simple little things that used to bring us fun and pleasure as a child. I went on to apply this measure and metric with my children and now with my grandchildren.

So what are good measures and metrics to use to evaluate your adoption of Agile product development?  How can you measure and compare “how much taller” you’re getting (i.e. your progress)?  Let’s start by looking at the value of measuring.

The Value of Measuring
Ron Jeffries, one of the founding fathers of Agile, wrote an excellent summary of what he considers a truly valuable metric, RTF or Running Tested Features [1]. Ron also wrote the following when asked about using metrics to produce agility.

What is the Point of

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