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By Pavel Kukhnavets

Agile Metrics

The list of the best Agile metrics for measuring Agile project success

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Agilists all over the world constantly debate about proper and improper Agile metrics. Project managers working in an Agile environment and their clients still require detailed status reports as well as the adherents in traditional projects. Agile project management contributes to the uncertainty level that some specialists always want to eliminate.

Many companies and teams often rely just on one or two certain metrics instead of having a stable metrics system. Here we tried to gather the most significant Agile metrics that provide high-quality analysis of project value, quality, team performance, and agility. Perhaps, some of them you may never have heard about. So, let’s count them and identify the essence of each.

Best Agile metrics

Agile Metrics Definition

What are Agile metrics? In simple words, they represent the standards of measurement. Any Agile metric is a standard that helps a software development team to track how productive they are across the different SDLC phases.

They are an integral part of the whole development process. These metrics help Agile specialists to assess software quality and track the team’s performance.

Traditional KPIs versus Agile KPIs

Metrics in traditional projects and Agile metrics differ a lot. For example, metrics in Waterfall are focused on output while the metrics in Agile focus on outcomes.

Some KPIs practiced in traditional PM may lead to wrong actions in management. For instance, the number of documented requirements measure quality instead of improving collaboration with clients that could define their satisfaction. Progress and productivity are measured by monitoring planned hours instead of considering the actual team capabilities. They measure performance by how fast the team can deliver.

In fact, measuring metrics in a traditional way can not assist teams in finishing their projects faster but can increase the pressure. That is why the adoption of the Agile PM philosophy has led to the emerging of new Agile project metrics.

Agile KPIs are aimed to help teams to understand and analyze their workflows in a better way, recognize flaws, and accelerate focus on customer satisfaction.

Defining the common types of metrics in Agile

In Agile, three types of metrics are typically defined:

  • Kanban metrics – empower teams to better focus on Agile workflow, professionally prioritize and organize tasks, and get all things done. Examples – Lead time and Cycle time.
  • Scrum metrics – are about the predictable delivery of high-quality software to users. Examples – Burndown chart and velocity.
  • Lean metrics – they are focused on ensuring a flow of value from a company to its clients and eliminating waste. Lead time and Cycle time are also examples here.

Agile metrics

What is the importance of these metrics?

How do Agile metrics work? As you know, the whole Agile world rests on continuous improvement. However, this should come from within and this is not something that you can impose on your team.

Continuous improvement is not possible without self-improvement and everyone involved in Agile should remember this axiom.

Teams that practice self-improvement can boast better results than those who do not but having effective self-improvement is not an easy objective. This process requires a proper management framework.

Agile development metrics guide self-improvement by monitoring software quality and team performance, affecting continuous improvement at the same time.

On the whole, sprint metrics help teams to boost self-management and assist organizations to deliver value.

The Power of KPIs in Agile

Agile productivity requires quality metrics that will help all team members to improve their processes. Let’s define some qualities that make a metric powerful and allow it to drive real improvements in an Agile team.

  • Any Agile metric that matters should not be imposed by management – it should be used voluntarily by the team with the aim to learn and improve.
  • Scrum metrics are not only about numbers. They should be the key element in a conversation about processes and possible roadblocks.
  • You should utilize metrics to answer a specific question about Agile processes, not just measured for the sake of measurement.
  • It’s better to use any metric in combination with other metrics. By using several KPIs all together you will get a balanced picture of your Agile activities.
  • Metrics that are not fully understood or look complex are not useful in guiding daily activities.

A metric should be an essential indicator for a pattern change. It should provide a chance to analyze the cause in time.

Follow these three general rules for Agile metrics to succeed:

  1. Track the KPIs that can be applied to the team and avoid those that measure the individual.
  2. Do not measure parameters just because they are easy to track. This practice can often mean that different project management tools that offer out-of-the-box reports were used.
  3. Do not forget to record context. Data without context can turn out to be just noise.

The Process of Choosing Appropriate Agile Metrics

Logically, you don’t want to measure one facet to the detriment of other info. There is also no need to measure too many things and diffuse the focus of your team.

So, how should you choose the proper metrics for your Agile project? You may find various options but unfortunately, many of them are simply useless. Some of them look good at first sight but offer little actionable value.

That’s why initially you have to determine your company’s success levers. Try to agree on what measures should be used to track the success of the company or a project.

What are these levers? Here’re some examples:

  • Value – about meeting the customer’s needs.
  • Quality – about the product without issues and defects.
  • Predictability – about the ability to plan and deliver.
  • Growth – about the potential growth and learning in the company.
  • Stability – about the ability to maintain this pace indefinitely.
  • Productivity – about getting more done with the same resources or at the same time.

The List of the Best Agile KPIs and Metrics

KPIs and metrics

Agile Productivity Metrics

Productivity metrics help to assess the productivity of the team in completing tasks, user stories, and work big bodies. Some of these Agile metrics can assist in preventing bottlenecks and tackling scope changes.

1. Sprint Burndown

One of the most effective Agile productivity metrics for various reasons is Sprint Burndown.

Before a sprint starts, Agile teams forecast how many story points they can complete. With the help of the Sprint Burndown, they track the completion of those story points, ensuring that the team will finish the planned scope of work within the set time frame. It allows teams to track the progress of a sprint in real-time and closely. The metric also demonstrates how really Agile the team is.

Sprint Burndown contains the X-axis (it refers to the time) and the Y-axis (that represents the work left). The unit of measurement is hours or story points.

2. Velocity

Velocity is one of the most popular metrics you face when being introduced to Agile. It is defined as the quantity of software produced in every sprint. Usually, this quantity is expressed as story points.

Agile teams typically boost velocity by manipulating the size and estimation of user stories, or by decomposing work horizontally, instead of vertically.

3. Epic & Release Burndown

Epic and Release Burndown also focus on the bigger picture, allowing Agile teams to track bigger bodies of work (bigger than Sprint Burndown can cover).

This robust metric helps to manage the scope creep (scope creep is about the addition of new requirements after the project scope was already defined).

4. Lead Time

Let’s say, Lead time identifies how long it takes to get things done. It means that this KPI measures the time it takes to complete a particular task, from the point it is created to the finishing line.

Lead time, especially popular in Kanban, can help to identify efficiencies to move tasks through the system faster. You may also utilize it as a high-level KPI for determining how well continuous delivery is working.

5. Control chart (Cycle time)

Cycle time or control charts in Agile are focused on time duration from the status “In progress” to “Complete”.  They are aimed to check the cycle time of a single issue.

When teams have consistency in cycle times they will get predictable deliveries. Additionally, teams that have short cycle times are known for high throughput. By measuring cycle times, Agile teams boost the flexibility of their processes.

6. Work item age

This is actually about aging work in progress. This productivity metric shows the time that passes between the start of the current task and its completion.

You will need this metric to detect the timeline for unfinished tasks.

By using the Work item age, your team will realize how your present tasks move forward. You will be able to compare the previous performance in the same context as the current scenario.

7. Throughput

Another essential Agile KPI amounts to the average number of work items that are processed in a specific time frame. If we consider the Kanban method with its visual cards, throughput will be measured according to how many Kanban cards were finished in a certain time period.

With its help, you can better plan the amount of work you can deliver in a specific period as the metric provides you with useful details into your team’s real capabilities.

8. Blocked time

Blocked time is one more essential metric that assigns a blocker sticker to a task. It is about some reason, the assignee can’t proceed with a certain task because of some dependency.

After dependencies management, you need to move the blocked card to the right on the task board. When you resolve all blockers, you will be able to finish your tasks with the status “In progress” quicker.

Agile Project Metrics

9. Work in progress

WIP is also a crucial Agile metric you need to apply. It simply illustrates how many work items the team currently has “In progress”.

You should track WIP as work started but not finished yet. It may also lead to multitasking which will decrease the team’s throughput. So, Agile-focused teams try to limit their work in progress, to be sure that any started work will be finished as soon as possible, and the throughput will rise.

10. Cumulative flow

The Cumulative flow diagram is applied in Kanban projects. It illustrates the task status in a sprint, release, or across software teams.

Cumulative flow can identify bottlenecks in the process, for example,  a disproportionately large number of tasks in any workflow stage. This metric is widely used because of its visual simplicity. You can understand a process in one glance, identify issues, and catch essential problems before they result in delayed delivery.

11. Value delivered

Value delivered uses a points system or dollars. The top priority here is implementing the features with high value.

When the metric is upwards, then everything is ok, but a downward trend shows not a good sign. It means the lower-value features continue to be implemented. Sometimes, it even requires stopping product development.

12. Flow efficiency

Flow efficiency is used to show how efficiently teams process their work from the very start to finish. For calculating this, they need to divide the value-added time by the Lead time, including phases with no active work done.

Flow efficiency is actively used in Kanban, where teams visualize active and non-active stages in the process.

13. Code coverage

This useful Agile project KPI amounts to the percentage of code that is covered by unit tests. You can measure Code coverage by the number of statements, methods, branches, or conditions that are executed as part of a unit test suite.

By the way, the metrics can be run automatically as part of every build. It provides a crude picture showing how much of the codebase has been tested. A low code coverage means low code quality.

Metrics and tools

Agile Quality Metrics

14. Escaped defects

This is about the bugs that were defined only after a release or build got to production. Ideally, Escaped defects should be zero. This measurement gives quite a crude, but a still relevant measure of deployed software quality.

15. Failed deployments

Failed deployments provide access to the number of deployments in testing and production environments. The metric clarifies how reliable those environments are as well as whether a team is creating healthy software at all. You may also use it to understand whether a given sprint is ready for production.

16. Net promoter score

Another powerful metric for Agile teams that measure how much clients are willing to recommend the product (service) to others. The metric offers an index that ranges from -100 to 100. Net promoter score can be used as a proxy for customer loyalty as an important factor to define the company’s success.

What are the best metrics to improve Agile team performance?

There is no ideal way to measure overall Agile performance. Some experts identify four basic metrics that cover the most important marks:

  • Cycle Time – to measure productivity
  • Escaped defect rate – to measure quality
  • Planned-to-done ratio – to measure predictability
  • Happiness metric – to measure stability

Conclusion

Powerful Agile metrics do exist to help us to better understand and professionally analyze our workflows, discover bottlenecks, and work with them. That’s why, continuous delivery of healthy projects, satisfying customers, and eliminating wasteful activities are what modern Agile teams should focus on in order to succeed.

What do you measure to track progress? What metrics really matter for your Agile team? We’d be happy to receive your thoughts in the comments.