How Metrics Distract Stakeholders on Agile Software Projects

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With the advancement of technology that improves user experience, all manufacturers are spicing up the user interfaces and dashboards of their products. Recently, I read this article from The New York Times about the increased distractions due to extreme dashboard makeovers in cars. This is not surprising at all.

Remember that the stakeholders in our agile projects can get carried away with vanity metrics, and they might lose focus on reality, which in turn leads to unrecoverable damage to investments.

Let’s take a look at some of the distractions.

Velocity is the most popular and one of the most misused metrics. Many stakeholders show such a deep interest in measuring velocity that they end up ignoring reality. Velocity is an important metric on the dashboard, but you should be focusing on whether or not customer value is being delivered during every iteration.

It is baffling to see stakeholders demanding to measure code check-ins. Although one could create a beautiful cumulative burn-up graph displaying increasing check-ins, the reality is that the stakeholders need to concentrate on the quality and value that is being built into the code. You need to ask yourself whether or not your checked-in code is compliable, integratable, and testable.

Measuring employee engagement is another popular metric. An engaged employee is supposed to be very productive and happy, in turn contributing toward a more profitable company. However, many enterprises attach rewards to more engaged business groups, which lead to people gaming the system. You could have a dashboard that shows a year-by-year increase in an engagement score, but it’s better for stakeholders to establish trusted one-on-one contacts with employees on the ground rather than getting carried with the numbers.

Agile maturity assessments, another type of metric, are needed to get an estimate of what’s happening with agile practices in the team. However, you should not get carried away with these scores and make the assessments your sole guide. If rewards and punishments are attached to these measurements, then a team can easily game the system. In order to really know what is going on with the teams, stakeholders should attend standups and retrospectives.

Stakeholders can gain more realistic insight by observing the intangibles—like accountability, transparency, and trust in teams—rather than just following the numbers on an assessment dashboard.

The number of issues and roadblocks on a team’s story wall can contribute to higher blood pressure for the stakeholders. Again, this is not a clear indication of the real issues affecting the project. Many times, teams don’t speak up about the issues until the last minute.

Rewards, punishments, and a bad leadership style can also influence a team to not display too many issues on a story wall.

What other metrics are distracting your stakeholders?

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Venkatesh Krishnamurthy

Venkatesh Krishnamurthy is an author, speaker and a coach. In his 15+ years of career in the software industry, he has played different roles as a developer, architect and an Agile coach.