What’s Different About Agile Metrics?

What’s Different About Agile Metrics? Are metrics really consistent with Agile at all?

Different Views of Metrics

  • Some people might say that metrics are not very consistent with Agile because Agile is unplanned and uncontrolled but that is a misconception.
  • The right approach is to fit the level of planning, risk management, and metrics to the project.
  • Let’s look at some of the key differences between a traditional, plan-driven environment and an Agile environment that might have an impact on how (and if) metrics are used.

Relationship of Metrics and Success Criteria

Metrics should be related to and well-aligned with the success criteria for the project

  • As a result, in a traditional, plan-driven environment, you’re going to see metrics indicating how closely the project is tracking against cost and schedule goals
  • That kind of metric may not be very appropriate in an Agile environment. An Agile project should be focused on producing results.

Impact of the Project Approach on Metrics

The result is that you’re likely to see very different types of high-level project metrics with an Agile project.

  • In a traditional plan-driven project, you might see a dashboard with red/yellow/green status indicators that signify the amount of variation from budget and schedule goals.
  • In an Agile environment, a burn-down or burn-up chart might be a good way to show the performance of the project in producing results.

Metrics are a form of project communications

  • In a traditional plan-driven environment, communications are typically more limited and formal, as well as more controlled.
  • In an Agile environment, all of the stakeholders should be much more heavily engaged in the project on an ongoing basis and there is lots of emphasis on openness and transparency
  • The impact is that there should be less of a need for extensive metrics to keep people informed of what’s going on in the project. If Agile is implemented correctly, most stakeholders should have first-hand knowledge of what’s going on in the project without extensive metrics.

Metrics should be well-designed to support the level of decision-making required

  • In a traditional plan-driven environment, management typically has to get engaged in projects at a much lower level and make decisions related to resolving issues, assigning additional resources, etc.
  • The companies I know that have done Agile well have told me that by delegating more responsibility to empowered, self-organizing teams, it relieves a big burden on management to get engaged in tactical project decisions
  • The impact is that because of the different levels of empowerment, there is likely to be a significant difference in the metrics needed at different levels. In particular, senior managers should not have to be heavily engaged in tactical project decisions and should be able to focus more heavily on more strategic issues

Overall Summary

For those reasons, you are likely to find a lot more metrics in a traditional, plan-driven environment and the metrics in an Agile environment will probably be very different but metrics still have value in an Agile environment.

  • This is yet another example of the need to get past some of the myths, misconceptions, and stereotypes that paint the picture that there is a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall”.
  • Rather than force-fitting a project to one of those extremes, you need to fit the approach to the nature of the project and the metrics should also be appropriate to the nature of the project.

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.

2 thoughts on “What’s Different About Agile Metrics?”

  1. Chuck makes three extremely good points that are worth remembering. I would add that Agile projects are in fact metric driven by story sizing, prioritizing into an order and time table for development and (typically) displaying graphically by their stage of “doneness.” The key is to have metrics relevant to the need at the team level, program level, “delivery stream” level, corporate level and probably other constituencies. Each has their own relevant need for metrics in order to understand progress in their own terms. In my opinion the role of a PMO is to understand the constituency perspectives and act as a facilitator (and sometimes be the creator) for developing these various reports in a way that utilizes the data already being produced to minimize impact on actual Agile (or traditional) teams. So it really isn’t a “project method” defining metrics but rather a reflection of different constituent needs making use of the metrics from different methods.

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