Appropriate Metrics

At the Advanced ScrumMaster Training, Ken Schwaber presented a substantial amount of thinking about metrics used with Scrum. The main driver for thinking about metrics has come from implementing Scrum in enterprise situations. Management expects metrics to be used in order to provide visibility into the progress of the Scrum implementation.


While this driver has some legitimacy, there are three main concerns to prescribing metrics for use with Scrum.

1. Planned/Engineering Approach – metrics such as “ideal person days” smell like the bad old way of treating people as resources that can be swapped in and out of a project.

2. Normative vs. Empirical – metrics are often used to set a standard for reasons such as prediction, and expectation. Scrum is about discovery and improvement not prediction and planning.

3. Is Something in Scrum not Working? Is adoption being hindered? Are too many Scrum implementations failing? Are metrics a critical success factor?

Keep these concerns in mind while considerig the uses of metrics.

What are Metrics for?

1. Self-Evaluation over Time – use a metric to track the progress of a group. A measurement is taken at a certain point in time, and then taken repeatedly over intervals. Example: the velocity at which a team completes work can be used to identify problems and opportunities for a team.

2. Control – use a metric to legislate the qualities of some process or attribute of work. A goal or standard is set for a measurement. The size of a queue of projects waiting to be worked upon by a team can be controlled in order to limit the size of work in progress and therefore project inventory.

3. Prediction – use a metric with values collected over time in order to predict future values of that metric. By implication, the metric is used to predict the performance of a system. The number of additional tasks discovered inside an iteration can be tracked and used to determine future expectations on extra tasks discovered.

4. Performance Measurement – use a metric in order to determine rewards and/or punishments and/or adjustments to behavior. An individual on a team may be evaluated based on their productivity as measured by lines of code completed and rewarded or penalized on that basis (not recommended!).

5. Behavior Motivation – use a metric to guide behavior by setting a context for thinking, action and reflection. Focus on an important measure in order to draw attention to improving the attribute with which the metric is associated. Measuring the time elapsed from conception of a project idea to the time it actually delivers valuable results can draw attention to improving speed.

The Lesson from Good to Great

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t by Jim Collins discusses the attributes and behavior that are common and unique to companies that have gone from a long history of mediocre results to a long run of great results. One identified aspect is referred to as the “Hedgehog Principle”. In this principle, three questions are answered: “what can we be the best in the world at?”, “what can we be passionate about?”, “what is my one economic driver?”

The economic driver is a metric. For example, at Walgreens, their driver is profit per customer visit. Other large institutions have other metrics. But all good to great companies have a single economic driver metric that guides all their decision making.

See also: A Metric Leading to Success.


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