Using Metrics to Track the Efficiency of Agile Teams

Choosing agile metrics that will be most effective in measuring application success is a challenge, and then tracking those metrics can be tricky as well. But with a good strategy, agile metrics can be a powerful tool for sharing the team’s progress and identifying existing and possible roadblocks. These meaningful metrics can reduce confusion and bring clarity throughout the application development cycle.

Tracking agile metrics is always a tricky endeavor. Irrespective of whether you have successfully implemented agile practices into your software development workflow or you are just about to take the leap into agile, choosing agile metrics that will be most effective in measuring application success is a challenge.

Agile metrics are a tough nut to crack. Miss tracking the essential metrics, and you end up losing out on essential data and insights, making it difficult for you to determine whether you are still on track for the release or not. Choose the wrong metrics or have metrics end up in the wrong hands, and they become weapons of destruction, pitting one team against another and resulting in finger-pointing and criticism.

The picture doesn’t need to be so bleak. With a good strategy in place, agile metrics can turn out to be a powerful tool for sharing the team’s progress and identifying existing and possible roadblocks. Tracking meaningful metrics can be effective in reducing confusion among team members and bringing clarity throughout the application development cycle.

Here’s how you can measure application success using agile metrics.

Understand the Differences between Agile and Traditional Development

Agile software development has resulted in burning down the silos of the traditional waterfall development methodology. The agile principles of continuous delivery and continuous improvement result in rapid value delivery to the stakeholders.

As the silos disappear, collective project ownership emerges. The entire team is responsible for upholding the standards of product quality. Constant improvement is a key agile principle, and metrics are the most effective method for tracking the efficiency of agile teams.

TThe traditional performance metrics aren’t effective in measuring the effectiveness of agile development. You need to come up with a viable strategy and make use of the right metrics to succeed in measuring the effectiveness of agile implementation. 

Prioritize: Measure Only What You Need

There are numerous agile metrics available to measure. While you can measure almost anything, you can’t pay attention to it all. Prioritization of the metrics to be measured is crucial to be able to get actionable results from the data available.

It is also crucial that the metrics you choose reach the right stakeholders: the agile team, and not management. The team can use these insights to improve their process in real time. Instead of evaluating any single team member, the metrics that you choose should be team-oriented and facilitate team conversations.

While you certainly don’t want to bite off more than you can chew by picking out too many metrics, choosing too few is also not wise. Any one agile metric can present an imbalanced picture of the whole situation. For a truly balanced overview, a combination of metrics needs to be taken into consideration, so choose a mix that presents a complete outlook of application development. 

3 Metrics You Should Be Tracking

According to 2019’s State of Agile Report, a majority of organizations that have achieved successful implementation of agile in their development practices report that user satisfaction, business value, and on-time delivery constitute the top measures of application success. These are followed by quality and productivity metrics.

Whether you follow Scrum, kanban, or another agile framework, the following is a list of agile objectives that you should track so you can subsequently choose the metrics that are best suited to your team.

1. Team productivity and efficiency metrics

These metrics help you discover whether the forecasted delivery of value to users is taking place efficiently and predictably. These metrics delve specifically into the productivity and efficiency of the team’s development process.

Here is a list of metrics to track the speed of development and delivery of value in the application development process.

  • Lead time: This is the time elapsed between the identification of a requirement and its fulfillment. It is the duration between the formulation of a user story and its subsequent release. 

  • Cycle time: This is the time from when the actual work is started by the agile team until the line item goes from in-progress to completed. Each team has its own definition of complete, so the definition of done should be determined right at the beginning. Since the acceptance criteria vary from person to person, defining them at the start is essential to avoid confusion.

  • Sprint velocity: Velocity is the amount of work completed by the agile team in a given period of time. Sprint velocity is basically the rate at which the conditions mentioned in the software requirements specifications get converted into lines of tested code, or the number of story points covered by the team on every sprint.

  • Flow efficiency: Lead time includes both working time and wait time. The ratio of the actual work time measured against the total wait time gives us the flow efficiency. 

  • Stories committed vs. completed: The completion against commitment metric (CaC) is the percentage of user stories completed in the sprint against the total committed during the planning meetings.

  • Sprint burndown: Also known as the burndown chart, this is a graphical representation of estimated tasks planned and the actual tasks completed. 

  • Cumulative flow diagram: This is a visual representation of the stages all the different tasks are in at any given period of time. The vertical axis denotes the various story points, while the horizontal axis is the time. 

  • Control chart: This denotes the cycle time of issues to go from in-progress to the done stage. Agile teams with consistently shorter cycle times have greater throughput, and the control chart helps visualize any changes on an immediate basis. 

2. Development quality metrics

Quality metrics deal with the quality of the application developed, namely the number of defects discovered either during production or as a part of user feedback.

In agile, the QA mindset is embedded into the development process. The entire team takes ownership of the quality of the application being developed and organic improvement in the quality of software being developed.

Here are a few quality-focused agile metrics you can choose from to ascertain the quality of the application being developed.

  • Escaped defects: This is the number of bugs the agile team encounters after a build, after a sprint completes, or when the release enters into production. 

  • Defect density: This is the number of defects detected in the software module within a particular duration, divided by the size of the software being developed. 

  • Code churn: Churn measures the lines of code added, removed, or altered. By visualization of the fluctuations in the churn rate, the quality of the software being developed can be predicted. Agile teams should aim at churn close to zero as releases approach. 

  • Defects deferred: Bugs entering the deferred state implies that the bugs discovered are scheduled to be fixed in the next release. 

  • Automated test coverage: Test coverage is the amount of testing performed on a product. Automated test coverage calculates the degree to which the application code is covered by test cases and what portion of it takes place in an automated manner. 

  • Failed deployments:This is the total number of deployments released into the testing and production environments that fail. It helps in determining the reliability of these environments and whether your agile teams are developing working software. 

3. Emotional metrics 

Collection of feedback is an important constituent of successful agile implementation. How effective your team is at working together and how satisfied the users are with the application developed are critical measures of project success.

Here are a few satisfaction metrics that can be tracked during the agile process.

  • Team happiness rating: Measuring the happiness and morale of your team members is an important agile metric, as it acts as an indicator of the well-being of your team. Periodically measuring the level of satisfaction and happiness focuses on the human aspect, which is an essential feature of agile development

  • Team sprint effectiveness rating: Retrospective meetings are an important part of the agile methodology in which the team can review the existing process and refine it for future improvements. By analyzing the items called out in the meeting, the team can address and subsequently resolve items at the end of the sprint, giving you vital insights into the effectiveness of the sprints planned. 

  • Team communication and learning: Understanding how well the different stakeholders on the agile team communicate with each other is another important metric for ensuring the efficiency of the agile team. How well the team learns, individually as well as together, and how well they subsequently apply that learning needs to be tracked as well, so the team can improve with communication and collaboration tools.

  • Customer satisfaction: Internal efforts are of limited value until they are validated by the actual customers themselves. Using customer satisfaction metrics and a net promoter score can help indicate the ability of the application being developed to fulfill customer expectations. It also provides the agile team with the much-needed feedback to incorporate future changes into the process.

Metrics are just one aspect of agile implementation within the organization. While they do provide an aspect of quantifiability to the development process, just sticking to the numbers and hoping to get results isn’t a viable strategy.

Agile needs to be a part of the company culture. Only when the entire team takes ownership and applies the agile principles to their everyday workflow can there be a significant improvement. Just gathering data in the form of metrics isn’t enough. You need to draw from the insights, communicate the feedback, and formulate a viable action plan for successful agile implementation within the organization. 

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