The Definitive List of Agile Metrics

You could argue that if there was one single thing that you would expect PMOs to be good at, it would be Metrics. After all, PMOs often exalt the mantra that 'the PMO is the single voice of truth!'

But whilst most PMO analysts could tell you that CPI = EV/AC,  and ROI = (Gain-Cost)/Cost, analysts seem to be far less savvy about the metrics that are important in agile environments. Well never fear - we've pulled together the definitive collection of Agile Metrics for your performance indicating pleasure.

Below, you will find details agile metrics used to track flow, quality and even satisfaction. In short, this page contains everything you need to know about agile metrics. Whether you teams are using Scrum, Kanban or another agile framework, you’ve come to the right place.

What are Agile Metrics used for?

If you are a PMO person and are looking at Agile teams, it may be tempting to start pulling data to start to assess and compare teams. But what you will discover as you read down this page is that it is not easy to compare teams using agile metrics. A piece of work that is ‘1 story point’ for one team, may well be ‘3 story points’ for another. A team that is completing 40 story points per week is not necessarily better than a team completing 10 story points per week. This is because the definition of a story point is one that is unique to the team. Other attempts to measure productivity can also backfire. It used to be common to measure lines of code written. But when this is used as a performance or productivity metric, we quickly see a decline in the quality of code. Quantity begins to win out over quality, which is the exact opposite of what we would want to achieve.

With agile teams, we are looking to satisfy customers through the continuous delivery of valuable software. That isn’t something I’ve just made up - it is lifted from the 12 principles behind the Agile Manifesto. In fact, the principles behind the Agile Manifesto make several statements can be translated into measures. Let’s take a look at some of those principles:

The principles behind the Agile Manifesto for Software Delivery

The principles behind the Agile Manifesto for Software Delivery

  • Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale. Agile teams should be delivery software frequently. When the Agile Manifesto was written, the idea of delivering every couple of weeks seemed radical, but many software teams are now delivering software to production multiple times per day.

  • Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project. Collaboration is key for agile teams. If the development team are not engaged closely with the business, then they are less likely to deliver software that lives up to expectations. This engagement can be measured easily by observing attendance and engagement at key meetings and ceremonies, such as sprint reviews and showcases.

  • Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done. How motivated are your people? There are many ways of assessing this, but the simplest way is often simply to ask the team. If you have a good trust relationship, they will usually tell you.

  • Working software is the primary measure of progress. Rather than focusing on stage gates and other milestones, the primary measure is the delivery of software that actually does the job.

  • Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely. We talked about motivated individuals earlier - we also want them to work in a sustainable fashion. Teams who are coming in early, leaving late and working weekends are likely to burn-out and are not adhering to the agile principles. Ensuring the teams are maintaining a constant and sustainable pace is a key measure within agile.

  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility. Working valuable software that is sustainable, means no shortcuts. It means code quality has to be good, and software is build in line with best practices for security and readability. Quality metrics are an important consideration with agile approaches.

  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly. Teams are expected to continuously improve, and this can also be measured. Are the team holding regular retrospectives? Are they taking steps to improve themselves?

We asked ourselves the question ‘What are Agile Metrics for?’ but there is another important question:

Who are Agile Metrics for?

Agile teams are, to a greater or lesser degree, self-organizing. In order to tune and adjust behavior, they need to understand how they are doing. This is exactly what Agile metrics are for: They a primarily a feedback loop for the team. Teams should regularly review Agile metrics, reflect and use the data to become more effective. Often the metrics are used as an starting point for a conversation. Imagine our metrics are showing that cycle time has worsened. This the first step is for the team to understand why that is. It could be due to a unique, one off event - that will right itself a few cycles down the line. Or it could be an indication that backlog grooming is not being performed effectively. Whatever the reason, the metrics are the indicator and it is the team who reflect and diagnose.

Care should be taken when adding agile metrics into reports without commentary attached. Without commentary assumptions can be made that can lead to incorrect diagnoses. And just like in medicine, a misdiagnosis can have serious consequences.

How should Agile Metrics be used?

Agile metrics should be used to help achieve are goal of satisfying customers through the continuous delivery of valuable software. Once metrics are gathered, the first thing to do is reflect on what the data are telling the team. Coaches and PMO teams can often assist with calculating metrics, facilitating the discussion and by helping teams identify possible root causes.

Once the metrics have been reflected on and put into context, they can be used to help teams (and those who support them) tune their approach and become more effective.

The best way of doing this is by undertaking experiments based on a hypothesis. For example, a team may decide to implement WIP limits (limiting work in progress), working off the hypothesis that doing so will improve cycle time and result in satisfying customers faster.

The supporting teams including the PMO, Managers and Coaches should be looking for opportunities to support the teams and help improve their metrics where possible. Sometimes this may mean reducing the work going into a team. Other times, investment in software for load testing may be the right answer. Skillset and mindset issues can be resolved through training and mentoring and coaching, or through moving people around. By taking this servant-leader approach they maximize the chances of the team satisfying customers through the continuous delivery of valuable software.

Agile Metrics

I’ve grouped the metrics into three sections. Those that relate to the pace of delivery and value delivered are in the first section, followed by metrics for quality, followed by metrics used to measure satisfaction.

Lead time and Cycle time

Lead time and Cycle time

Have we missed your favorite Agile Metric? Let us know in the comments box below, and we'll add it to the list.