Measuring Agile Progress – Not Losing Sight of the Big Picture

Agile, while light on “metrics,” does have some artifacts that are used to help track progress. Burndown and Burnup charts are extremely helpful in measuring sprint progress and helping to correct course. Capacity and velocity measurements are great at helping us determine how and what to plan for a sprint and a release. These are important measures in determining if we are going to deliver working software on a regular basis, but I don’t think they tell the whole story. In order to measure how far we have come (and how far we may still need to go), I have come up with another method of measuring progress, the Agile Principles survey.

In 2001, the Agile Manifesto and Agile Principles was ratified and published. It is these principles that form the basis of Agile, no matter what methodology you choose to implement. To me this is the big picture. We may (or may not) complete all stories in a sprint, we may (or may not) find a consistent velocity, etc., but if we do not do well at following the overriding principles can we say that we are truly Agile? Maybe, maybe not, but I doubt we could call ourselves Agile “mature.” In the end, we are all a bunch of scrum butts and Agility is not binary. Agility is a continuum. Just because we are used to thinking in terms of black and white and 1s and 0s, does not mean that the world (or Agile) falls into our neat little categories. It irks me to no end when someone tells me that a team is not Agile. Every team is Agile, but it is a matter of degree. No team is 0% and no team is 100%.

The question remains, how do I measure in shades of grey? We need to go back to the source – the true principles of Agile and see how well we stack up. How you keep people focused on the big picture is up to you, but my way is very simple. Every two sprints (approximately one month for us) I give to all my team members a simple survey. It is a single page with 12 statements taken from the Agile principles. Under each statement, there is a scale from 0 (not at all) to 5 (always) that people use to rate how well we embody the principles. It is anonymous and people are encouraged to also include any comments that they would like to make.

This survey does at least four very important things. First, it shows the team that the organization, by merely asking about important principles, finds these principles important. Second, it reinforces the overriding principles with each and every team member. In other words, by asking the questions we are focusing their attention in the right direction. Third, by tabulating the answers to the survey for the entire team, we are able to see areas where we embody the principles and areas where we need some more work. Lastly, over time this provides us with an Agile “scorecard” to show us how we are progressing along the Agile continuum. For example, my most recent results shows me that we have made some significant progress in certain areas and overall progress in all areas. In other words, by the very definition of Agile, we are now more Agile than we were previously. The importance is progress toward the goal and not perfection.

I realize that this might be overly simple, but isn’t that the point?

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