Friday, February 1, 2013

Moving Visibility and Measurement Up the Ladder

More visibility up the organization ladder

A couple of the benefits Agile has given us is adding visibility into team work and moving us away from individual measurements, as our primary way of measuring progress, issues, etc. For example we replaced individual tasks estimates with team velocity for forecasting completion. This visibility into the teams work and measurements of that works helps change a teams focus to how do we improve our ability to deliver value to our customer as often as possible. Measures of a team are not enough to help most organizations transform and learn how to deliver value more often. What we need to solve this issue are visibility to how the organization/system works and measurements that help management see where the system has issues so they can make these visible to the the teams to help guide them to make good team adjustment. This is where I see a great benefit in concepts, principles and practices from Kanban, system thinking, theory of constraints and Lean.

Agile visibility

Scrum/XP/iterative planning help a team visualize many aspects of their work. By looking at trends and collaborating closely teams can make incredible improvements. This type of working can also improve communication up and down the business hierarchy. However, many problems are outside the teams control and though the impact of those problems are made visible the exact cause and full understanding of them are not made visible. Management needs visibility and measurements to help them see where the system is causing organization and team problems.

Another issue is a team improving, yet not understanding their impact on other teams. Sometimes a team improving can slow other parts of the system down hurting the ability of the organization to deliver value sooner. It is also possible that management does not understand the impact a 'lower value' product has on a higher value product. Due to the 'lower value' of the product on its own a lower level investment in the product may actually slow down a higher value product. Management needs visibility and measures that help them improve how they manage the system. It is a change for much of management from managing people to managing workflow (paraphrase @alshalloway or @agilemanager??? sorry could not find the original tweet on this idea).

This visibility will also help teams understand what they need to do differently as well. If I do X it hurts team Y. How can we deliver and reduce the burden on other teams. How might we help other teams such that the organization can deliver value sooner.

System visibility

Kanban, system thinking, theory of constraints, and Lean ideas are a good way to see this higher level.

A Scrum team may see that their velocity is inconsistent which indicates a problem. Maybe that problem is something the team can fix, unavailable product owner, missing/weak skill set, no automated safety net, etc. However, when these are not the issues they may not know the full cause and more importantly managers do not have a good view to the cause of the issue. Add a visualization of the workflow across teams with WIP limits and now management can see that a team is waiting on another team. They can see a team is producing work that another team cannot integrate with until much later causing a lot of rework and defects for both teams.

Scrum teams may be effectively delivering each iteration/sprint but they cannot always see the effect of their work on others. If managers and teams are looking at the cycle time of work that goes across multiple teams they can make decisions to improve how the organization delivers.


Too often managers are pushing teams to improve some metric that is outside their control. This causes frustration and gaming the metric. Scrum gave the team transparency but the work of the manager needs to be made transparent as well. @agilemanager recently tweeted "I'd like to end focus on process and refocus on management (training).  is a management method not a process" Agile/Scrum/XP have visualization mechanisms and measurements that help teams see issues they control and effects of things outside their control and Kanban adds visualizations and measurements that help managers see what is the cause of the problems outside the teams control. I would also like us to move away from focusing on process to focusing on managing the work and finding the best way to deliver value. Lets move past just making team work transparent and measuring teams and make workflow and system issues visible to everyone and use the measurement trends to move us towards a common goal.