Agile teams and measurement of success

What does success mean to you? One gets different answers depending on who the question is being asked. When talking about agile teams, the primary measurement of success is measured by how often teams deliver incremental business value driven product, directly resulting in more revenue to business or enhanced customer satisfaction or both. 

As teams undergo training on agile values and principles, they get particularly excited with the idea of self organization and empowerment. Once trained, it is time to put the values and principles to practice. However the realities of management and control become a common cause of conflict resulting in the teams having to  make a choice between agile behavior and management impression. The choice is quite obvious. 

While a lot is done to encourage teams to become agile, management continues to be resistant. A big part of this resistance to change has to do with the perception management has about teams. Teams are constantly stereotyped as individual performers who cannot be trusted to deliver a defined scope of work in a defined time frame unless micromanaged. The result, teams are constantly given dates by which they need to deliver. To add to this, management continues to measure teams by data that does not encourage agile behaviors.

Tell me how you measure me and I will tell you how I behave                                                                                                                                                          Eliyahu Goldratt

Here are some key measurements that when looked  in the right way will help get a true sense of what is being delivered and how successful the initiative is:

  •  Alignment (Alignment is a practice, not a state) – Once a vision has been established, a conscious effort to ensure alignment with the vision becomes critical.  alignment-clipart-061An great analogy of alignment was the recent mars mission by the India Space Research Organization (ISRO). The mission took almost a year to reach Mars from Earth  but the biggest success factor is how it goes through coarse correction each second. There are systems built to just manage this aspect of the mission and the failure of the same can result in waste of immense magnitude.
  • Incremental Value – Every bit of effort spent should translate into incremental value. Value can be something small that the business is able to see and provide feedback on to something equivalent of a business increment that increases revenues.  moneystackIn a lot of cases, teams have been seen spending effort on something that has nothing to do with the intent behind all the effort. For example; teams are often see spending time on  making their velocity or their sprint burn down look good which provides no value. It is absolutely critical that everyone involved has a consistent definition of success. 
  • Fail fastI was watching a video of the CEO of Google recently in which he talks about failure and why failure needs to be worn as a badge of honor. Most organizations have not been able to create an environment where individuals and teams feel safe to fail. The most obvious impact of which is elongated time spent on presenting inaccurate data pushing projects to fail late in the game hence resulting in huge waste.

       Failure needs to be assessed all along the way and all involved parties                       should challenge each potential failure point to ensure failure can happen              early and learning can be put in practice.

Post Script

None of the above mentioned parameters can be quantitatively measured which is where the standard metrics based on the methodology only work as facilitators to the mentioned parameters. A conversation around methodology specific metrics only results in the core benefits of visibility, transparency being lost. Standard metrics should be assessed with an intent to gauge the health of an initiative driven by a well defined and consistently understood vision, ongoing alignment to the vision, delivery of incremental value and opportunity to fail fast.

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