In the Agile community, there’s this idea that we don’t want to gather metrics, typically because we’re afraid managers are going to use them in an unhealthy way. But when companies make investments, they have a reasonable hypothesis that they’re going to get a return on that investment.
So if we can’t measure how our Transformation is performing, and we can’t measure the benefit of the Transformation, why would our leaders feel safe to continue supporting our initiatives? We want to create safety for leadership, demonstrate progress against the backlog, and give the organization an idea of what it’s going to get for its investment. With so much at stake, saying we aren’t going to use metrics is a non-starter.
Ok, so we need metrics. But how do we measure the right things that are meaningful?
It’s easy to start to measure things that are simple to measure—to do vanity metrics. But we want to use metrics in the right way. We don’t want to use them as a way to beat up the team or to compare teams.
We want to use metrics as a way to help teams get better over time—solid metrics that actually drive the right kinds of outcomes and give the leadership driving the Transformation the tools and visibility they need to make the necessary changes to the system and actually improve overall performance.
The first thing we need to understand is our goals. And then we use those goals to measure and ensure the leading and lagging indicators we selected are all rolling up to that goal.
There are two types of metrics that are most important to Transformation. Some fall into the category of leading indicators that we can measure now, and they offer a clue on whether we’ll achieve the goals before us in the Transformation—we call those Transformation metrics. And the lagging indicators are the things we find out later in the process— we call those performance metrics.
Once we have a goal, then we can look at the leading and lagging indicators. If the leading and lagging indicators are not rolling up into something that we actually care about, we have to go back to the structure and governance that we have, and ask ourselves, what’s the matter here?
Here’s a quick overview of steps that can lead us to the right metrics:
- Create hypotheses around the organizational characteristics that we think are going to create and the leading and lagging indicators that line up to those characteristics.
- Run experiments to put those constructs into the organization.
- Measure their performance to demonstrate that the changes that we made are delivering the performance characteristics that we want, or not.
- If the changes we made are not working, we need to identify the things in our system that have to be changed to improve performance and figure out what we want to do to optimize the system so that we find the metrics we want to measure.
The result is that we understand the relationship between the metrics and the organizational characteristics that are going to lead to the performance we’re looking for.
When we stop fighting this metrics game, and we actually create the right metrics and teach our people how to impact the system in a healthy way, it gives the organization levers for creating and reinforcing the organizational improvements that we are doing on the ground—and it becomes a virtuous cycle. We need more Transformation and we need more Agile, and because we can actually prove that we’re getting the business benefits out of it that we expect, we can continue doing more—and that’s the loop that we want to keep reinforcing and hunting all the time.
Agile is really a means to an end. Because what we actually want is business Agility. We want predictability, quality, earlier return on investment, product fit, innovation, and cost savings.
But if we get our metrics right and use the right metrics to improve our system, then we all win. Everybody gets to work in a great environment, the leaders get the levers that they need to be able to help the organization improve, and everything comes into balance.