Management Myth 20: I Can Compare Teams (and It’s Valuable to Do So)


Measuring People Doesn’t Buy You Anything
For years, managers have tried to measure individual people’s productivity. That hasn’t worked. Now, especially with agile teams, they try to measure and compare team’s productivity. That doesn’t work either.

You cannot measure what people do and expect that measure to be useful. Why? Because software is a team sport. Everything we do depends on other people.

Even if we could measure an individual’s productivity, that measure would be meaningless, because everything we do in software is interconnected.

Measuring a Team’s Productivity is Meaningless, Too
Measuring a team’s productivity in terms of features per unit time might be a step in the right direction, but you can’t compare projects. And, trying to compare teams on the same program has the same problems as comparing people on the same project—every team is interconnected. Why would you pit teams against one another?

There is no value in measuring teams against each other.

What Does Management Want?
From what I see, management wants to know that people are working hard and making progress. Those are two different problems.

If you want to know that people are working hard, you can ask them in a one-on-one for a list of their impediments to their ability to making progress. Note that my assumption is that they are working hard, and that only impediments prevent them from making progress faster.

If you tell people or teams what the goal is—the results you want—and you ask them if they have the tools to achieve those results, all you need to ask on a periodic basis is what their impediments are to achieving those results. That’s why you need a weekly or biweekly one-on-one for people—so you can tell if you, as a manager need to remove impediments. In a program, the program manager can assume there are impediments and that the program manager needs to expose those impediments more frequently than once every two weeks. The program manager needs to facilitate the impediment removal or remove them him or herself.

You don’t need to measure how people or teams are doing to see if they are working hard.

Is a Team Making Progress?
The best way I know to answer the last question “Is a team making progress?” is to use an agile lifecycle so you can see demos. Other iterative or incremental lifecycles will do because you can use deliverable milestones, but the progress will be slower. Agile lifecycles provide an answer faster.

If you use an iteration of two weeks, you can see a demo at the end of two weeks. If you use flow, you can see a minimum marketable feature (MMF) even earlier than that, depending on the size of your features. You don’t have to compare teams to see if they are productive. You can see if they are productive.

Don't use surrogate measures when you can see the product in the form of a demo. Measuring teams is a poor form of measurement. Ask people for what you want. Explain the goal, provide the tools the people need, create a reasonable environment and continue to remove impediments, and you don’t have to attempt to measure a team’s productivity. You can’t and you don’t need to. The team will respond magnificently.


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