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Assessments in agile come under a wide variety of names: appraisals, health checks, audit or even assessments. These terms are commonly conflated.  Assessments are a tool to prove a point. There are many approaches to assessing agile in a team or organization ranging from self-assessment questionnaires to formal observer-led appraisals. What gets assessed and the approach an organization chooses depends on the point of the assessment. All assessments create a baseline, a line in the sand from which to measure change.  At the same time, an assessment is a benchmark. Benchmarks are a comparison against a standard (real or implied). For example, an organization could use the principles in the Agile Manifesto or the framework in the Scrum guide as a standard to compare their behavior against to generate a benchmark. Put very succinctly, baseline defines where an organization (or team) is at a point in time, while a benchmark is a comparison to a standard. Assessments of any type, whether to generate a baseline, a benchmark or both, require time and effort which might be better spent creating a product, unless there is a good reason to do an assessment. There are three macro reasons why an organization might assess the agile journey that can generate value:

Process Improvement – If a team or organization doesn’t have a clear understanding of their performance and/or behavior improvement there can only be random change (which is rarely very effective). Process improvement begins by assessing how a group has performed and then uses that assessment in order to generate a course of action.  A retrospective is a form of appraisal in the same way as a formal audit IF a team or organization uses the data to improve their performance. The degree of rigor often depends on how urgent the perceived need for a change is.

Marketing Material – If you have ever taken a long trip, you will recognize that the excitement for taking the journey is inversely related to the time spent on the road. Another way of saying this is that the longer a journey goes on, the more frequently the “are we there yet” question gets asked.  An appraisal shows the progress made and helps keep the energy for moving forward high. Somewhat more commercially, successful (the word commercially is chosen on purpose) assessments are useful tools for in the pursuit of contracts.

Flag Planting – An assessment can be a mechanism to recognize and declare victory.  Benchmarks against a standard are a tool to determine whether an organization has attained a goal.  An appraisal, for this reason, seeks to definitively answer the “are we there yet” question not to impart to a keep going message but rather so that a victory party can be held and a new endeavor can be chosen.

 

All reasons, at their most extreme, are exclusive of the other however very few teams or organizations pursue an assessment purely for one just one reason. For example, in the government contracting space, the classic CMMI appraisal is a tool to show achievement and a tool for securing contacts (marketing).  Blending reasons for an assessment generates the need to develop hybrid approaches to target different groups, behaviors, and outputs. For example, reviewing not only whether teams did the work correctly but whether they did the right work. These are two very different perspectives.

Next – Health Checks Focused On Mindset and Behaviors.