Can we really measure anything?

Organizations and teams come to agile—for that matter, any concept, framework or technique—for a wide variety of reasons.  Even if we are just the keeping up with the neighbors, we need feedback to know if we have met our goal.  We need feedback because—to quote Paul Gibbons, author of The Science of Successful Organizational Change (Re-read Saturday)—“we confuse what we think ought to work” with what does work (quote from SPaMCAST 480).  Feedback is required when we are trying to determine if the time and effort invested to adopt agile delivered the expected results.  The typical results promised from an agile transformation fall into nine overall categories.  Each of these can be used to generate questions which can be used to measure and assess impact.

  • Lower Cost – Are teams delivering functionality at less cost than they did when using different methods?
  • Faster Completion – Are teams delivering projects and programs faster?
  • Frequent Deliveries – Are teams able to release functionality more often?
  • Transparency – Are the agendas, policies, conditions, and decisions available to everyone involved in delivering value?
  • Business and Customer Focus – Is the work that teams do important to the business and/or the organization’s customers?
  • Engagement – Are teams, stakeholders, and customers working collaboratively in a concerted fashion to deliver value?
  • Predictability – Are teams able to state what they will do, when they will do it and then deliver on that promise?
  • Flexibility – Can the team change direction to meet business needs?
  • Increased Quality – Are teams delivering more usable functionality? Does the functionality have fewer defects and meet needs of the business?

Arguably not all of these promised benefits are direct benefits of adopting agile.  However, all of these benefits are used to sell the cost of adopting agile. Therefore it is imperative that you be able to answer whether we have met the promises and goals set when committing to an agile transformation. Peter Drucker, the management pundit,  has been quoted as saying “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.” The impact of adopting agile in the business or technical components of the organization should have an impact on the purpose of the organization.  Most organizations adopt agile to improve their ability to deliver value and gain customers.  At the business level, these tactical goals that support Drucker’s more lofty goal are typically measured by reduced cost and/or increased profit.  Both are proxies for creating and keeping customers.  Evan Leybourn recently wrote that companies are not in the business of making money.  In a comment, someone pointed out that making profits was a requirement for maintaining the ability to create customers; therefore, it is a crucial part of a business’s survival equation.

The Agile Manifesto does not make any promises about performance or about how people will interact.  The Manifesto does describe values and principles that guide adoption and behavior in broad terms.  There are multiple paths for achieving the values and principles in the manifesto.  People almost always sell agile as more than a set of values and principles.  People sell agile to leaders with promises of faster, better, cheaper or otherwise improved functionality.  Given these promises it behooves all practitioners to be able to answer whether those promises were delivered with more than a shoulder shrug.


Next – Suggested Measures and Metrics