Putting a Finger on the Scale
In order to rapidly improve our agile performance, we need a way to measure our performance. Otherwise, improvement will be random and performance may actually degrade. Just as important as determining what to measure is how to measure what we’ve determined is important.
Let’s start with a simple example of measuring temperature. The scale we use can have a significant, even life altering impact on how we prepare for what’s outside. “It’s a hundred degrees outside,” someone tells you. How will you dress before opening the door? That will depend on the temperature scale. Knowing the scale can help with your decision even if you aren’t familiar with the context.
Story points are a common measure in software development projects. More times than I can count I’ve worked with teams that are fully engaged with arguing about how they’re going to define a story point and completely missing the fact almost everyone in the room is using a different scale. They’re vigorously defending where the “1” is on their personal thermometers while remaining oblivious to the mismatch in scales in the room. It is a non-trivial task getting otherwise smart people to understand this distinction. So much so, I avoid the topic of story points until I’ve laid the groundwork for this understanding.
Of course, if all you’re using to evaluate progress is story points, you’re going to miss a lot of important information. In the temperature example, it will also be a big help to know where you are located. Are you in the Antarctic? The International Space Station? Phoenix, Arizona? With project progress and team performance, you’ll also want to know about product backlog health and the quality and effectiveness of things like MVP definition, acceptance criteria, and definitions of done. I’ve had much greater success focusing on other contextual markers and measures first, before ever introducing the idea of story points, if at all.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay