Improvement is a core tenet of Agile. But before you can improve, you need to measure. That’s why Agile practitioners use metrics. (And why you should, too.)
Agile projects are engineered to handle change, but you still need to track progress and control the chaos. Tracking the right Agile metrics (as opposed to tracking everything) can help.
Which metrics you should track depends on how your team operates. For example, does your team work in Scrum, Kanban, or Lean? What do you want to optimize? Before you start measuring, you need the answers to these questions.
But having metrics isn’t enough. You need a way to measure them!
What are Agile metrics?
Agile metrics are indicators Agile teams use to measure productivity, progress, and performance.
Setting and evaluating metrics is an integral part of the Agile mindset. It stems from the pursuit of Continuous Improvement (“CI”), in which teams continually optimize processes and strive to boost efficiency in order to deliver more value to the customer faster.
Tracking metrics helps teams achieve better results. But don’t just track metrics: use the insight you gain from those metrics to identify areas for improvement. For best results, each team should track and compare their own metrics. (You don’t want to create competition between teams.)
Why are Agile metrics important?
There are several reasons why you should implement and track Agile metrics. Tracking:
- Helps teams measure progress with actual data
- Sets a benchmark so you can establish targets to beat
- Provides historical data that will improve your planning
- Can help you identify bottlenecks and other issues
So your team can benefit from tracking metrics. But you might be wondering how to pick the right ones?
Types of Agile metrics
Agile isn’t just for software development. Many marketing, HR, and finance teams have also adopted this approach. However, each team measures performance differently. On top of that, there are a lot of Agile frameworks to choose from.
When picking your metrics, start with the right type. There are three main types of Agile metrics:
Use Scrum metrics if you prioritize fast and efficient value delivery to customers. Some Scrum metrics measure data in a single Sprint, while others focus on factors across iterations.
Use Lean metrics to identify and eliminate waste in the delivery process. The time you save will contribute to a smoother workflow and better customer satisfaction.
Use Kanban metrics to organize and prioritize the team’s work better. Kanban metrics can also help you make the production process more reliable.
Now, let’s dive into the metrics you should introduce to your team.
7 best Agile metrics for your team
The following list is a mix of the three main types above. Some are Scrum-specific, while others work for Kanban or Lean teams.
1. Sprint Burndown
Scrum teams use Sprint Burndown to track each Sprint’s remaining work and progress. What makes Burndown valuable is the consistency of tracking. Your team writes down the number of story points they delivered the day before and compares their results with the optimal delivery pace.
Sprint Burndown measures progress and consistency across the Sprint. Monitoring burndown regularly enables you to see if work is on schedule, or if your team is falling behind. You can spot roadblocks or see if the Developers have taken on too much work.
You gather insights throughout the Sprint. This way, you can make adjustments before it’s too late.
In simple terms, velocity is the amount of work a team completes during a Sprint. Scrum teams measure velocity in story points. To analyze team velocity, use three previous iterations and divide the number of complete story points by the number of Sprints.
Team efficiency improves if the number of delivered story points per Sprint increases. If it stays level, it usually means that the team has reached a consistent level of productivity. But if velocity goes down, it’s worth investigating.
3. Escaped defects
Scrum team members test their work before it goes live. But sometimes, bugs slip through. Tracking these “Escaped defects” enables the Development team to reassess their testing and QA process to discover the cause of bugs slipping into production. This ultimately enhances software quality, which in turn increases customer satisfaction.
Here’s how it works:
- Users submit bugs they found in the latest release.
- Developers gather that information and compile a list.
- The team tracks the number of user-submitted bugs in each release.
But measuring escaped defects happens after the release. So you repair things after the damage occurs. This approach is costly and time-consuming, but it improves product quality, so it’s worthwhile.
4. Lead time
This Kanban metric is simple to track, but it provides a lot of insight. Lead time is the time it takes from when a task is ready to start to when it’s complete. It measures the entire life cycle of a task from start to finish.
For example, if a task gets into your backlog on Monday, a team member changes its status to “Ready to start” on Tuesday, and then finishes it on Friday, the lead time is four days.
Why is lead time a valuable Agile metric? It indicates whether your process is efficient. Lead time also enables you to establish more realistic deadlines for future tasks. Finally, tracking lead time makes it obvious when items wait too long before moving into the “In progress” category. The sooner you spot that problem, the faster you can find and address workflow blockers.
5. Cycle time
Another similar Kanban metric is called Cycle time. Instead of the task’s entire lifespan, it measures the time from when actual work begins until it’s complete.
Knowing how long a task takes makes it easier to optimize production processes. And if you maintain your cycle time, you can predict future delivery more accurately. This works especially well for repetitive tasks.
6. WIP Limits
The flow of work is vital in Kanban. To ensure the work flows smoothly, teams limit the number of tasks that can be “in progress” at a given time.
This is what Work in Progress (“WIP”) limits look like on a Kanban board.
Each team, a specific member, and each column can have its own WIP limit.
This enables teams to focus on the work at hand without being distracted by other tasks. Fewer distractions means more focus time. More focus time often translates into faster and more accurate work. And all of this supports faster delivery.
Evaluating the impact of a given limit on task completion time is a valuable metric for Kanban teams. It enables teams to identify and eliminate bottlenecks from the development process.
Another method of measuring effectiveness is throughput: the number of completed tasks in a given time period. For example, you might measure the amount of work completed in a week or a month. The frequency is up to you.
Why should you use throughput in your Kanban project?
- To check the pace and consistency of your team’s delivery
- To gain insights into your team’s performance
- To identify time periods when performance decreases
- To improve the work process
- As a historical point of reference for future planning
How to track Agile metrics
You have the metrics you want to use — now what? Let’s talk about tools and apps that enable you to gather data and get insights.
Sprint Burndown Chart
The burndown chart tracks the team’s daily progress in a Sprint. It consists of two axes
- The X-axis (horizontal) represents the effort/workload in story points
- The Y-axis (vertical) represents the days in a Sprint.
On day 1, the chart shows a point representing the total number of story points.
The team updates the chart daily with the number of story points they completed the day before. They then subtract these values from the previous day’s total, and connect them with what’s called the “actual effort” line.
There’s also an “ideal” line, which drops steadily to 0 at the end of the Sprint. This line symbolizes the perfect pace of work. The closer the actual line is to the ideal line, the more consistent the delivery of items. Here’s an example
To gather accurate velocity data, start with capacity planning. This will serve as a limit for allocating the workload for each Sprint. In BigPicture, you can set the capacity for each team member in each iteration. The app will calculate the totals for the whole team.
The team capacity then serves as a point of reference for the team’s completed work in a Sprint.
In the Velocity report (available in BigPicture Enterprise), you’ll see two columns for each Sprint:
- The total team capacity
- The number of delivered story points
The columns clearly illustrate the difference between capacity and delivered number of story points — see for yourself:
The app calculates average velocity, and you can choose the number of Sprints it uses to analyze that. So if you want to see the average of three, four, or more Sprints, just type that number into the report settings:
Each team should have its own Velocity chart. You’ll want to evaluate velocity within a single team. The point is to improve deliverability, not create cross-team competition.
Cumulative Flow Diagram (“CFD”)
This one’s a must-have for your Kanban team. Because it enables you to measure all kinds of metrics. Want to check the cycle time? No problem. How about lead time or throughput? CFD will do that, too.
The X-axis shows the timeline. The Y-axis shows the number of tasks at every stage of your workflow. The data in the chart uses colors to distinguish between tasks at various stages of the workflow. You can see at a glance how many cards are ready to be worked on, in progress, or done at a given point in time.
Based on the data in the CFD, you can determine several things:
- How long it takes for a task to go through the workflow
- How many tasks the team completed in a given time period
- Whether the work progressed smoothly, and if there are any bottlenecks
This will enable you to calculate lead time, cycle time, and throughput metrics. The curve of the CFD might even prompt you to modify your Work in Progress limits.
These metrics will help you measure performance and implement improvements in your Agile projects.
And if you want to manage Agile, Classic, and Hybrid projects, programs, and portfolios, check out Appfire’s BigPicture.
Our Project Portfolio Management app takes planning, tracking, managing, and reporting to the next level. Whether it’s Classic, Agile, or Hybrid initiatives, BigPicture can help you visualize and standardize data so you can make better decisions.