Aligning Metrics to Your Agile Vision

This post was co-authored by Dan Fuller and Chris Waggoner.

One of the initial steps in an enterprise Agile transformation is for the organization to define a clear Agile vision. The vision should explain why the organization is adopting Agile and provide a clear definition of the core ideology of the envisioned future state.

The core ideology, which defines what the enterprise stands for and why it is trying to become Agile, has two components: a set of core values and a core purpose.

The Agile core values should be a small set of principles that the organization believes will endure over time and remain core to the organization throughout the Agile transformation. It is usually wise to limit the set of core values to between two and five, and to ensure that we haven’t defined core values that compete against each other. To determine whether core values are in competition you can use the Competing Values Framework (CVF). This framework is frequently used by organizations undergoing major organizational culture change identifies four possible culture types:

  1. Collaborative
  2. Creative
  3. Competing
  4. Controlling

Organizational cultures will typically show dominance in up to two of the four possible culture types. Think of each as four distinct points on a compass. You can’t steer both north and south at the same time, but you can steer a course to the northeast. Therefore, north and south “compete” against each other, as do east and west. Similarly certain values compete against each other. For example, enhancing creativity means relinquishing some control, so a controlling culture tends not to do well with creativity, and vice versa. We can say then that Creative and Controlling are in competition.

Some values that are still important are not core. The core values are the small set of dominant values that will continue to remain core throughout the Agile transformation and especially into the future, as we get closer to realizing our Agile vision.

Agile Competing Values Framework

Across many Agile transformations there are also patterns of different types of Agile values that can also have a tendency to compete against each other. Consider the following Agile Competing Values Framework (ACVF), which the authors of this post propose.

ACVF_01_trans

Agile Competing Values Framework

 

Successful Agile transformations tend to have Agile core values aligned to two of the four possible value patterns. Some organizations value Quality above all else. They may ask, “How good will the product be?” Some value Quantity of working software, asking instead, “How much bang will I get for my buck?” Some value how quickly ideas turn into value: “How fast can I get this to market?” While others value how satisfied certain stakeholders will be with the value delivered: “How happy will my users be?”

When organizations identify around three or more of these core values as future state goals, the inherent differences between value pairs gives rise to situations where goals start to compete against each other. Optimizing for one value often means sub-optimizing for the “competing” value.

What’s the Core Purpose for Agile Transformation?

Your organization’s core purpose is the primary reason driving its desire to be Agile. It is usually one sentence that clearly explains the business outcome that Agile will enable. It needs to be memorable and everyone in the organization needs to be aligned on the core purpose. One example of an effective core purpose might be

“We are adopting Agile in order to provide more timely and relevant technology solutions to business problems.”

What’s Your Agile-Envisioned Future?

The second aspect of a well-crafted Agile vision is an Agile-envisioned future. There are two key aspects to an Agile envisioned future. The first is a set of big hairy audacious goals (BHAG) . The second is a vivid description of the end state of the Agile transformation.

The BHAG set should be very ambitious. One example of an ambitious Agile goal might be

“We will become the company in the energy industry with the fastest time to market for information technology solutions.”

Another example might be

“We will become the medical device company with the highest-quality information systems.”

The vivid description of the end state of the Agile transformation should be a forward-looking statement that describes what the Agile organization aspires to become in the future. One example of an Agile vivid description of the Agile vision might be

“By the year 2020, we will be recognized by the Agile community as the premier Agile consulting company.”

Measuring Progress towards the Agile Vision

Once the entire organization (including both business and IT) is aligned on the Agile vision and starting to execute against a roadmap, it’s very likely that one of your earliest initiatives on the roadmap is to establish an Agile metrics program. There are a few characteristics of an effective Agile metrics program. First it needs to be tightly aligned to the core values of the Agile vision. Secondly, attention needs to be placed on how to measure the metrics along the way. Finally, a basis for comparison needs to be established.

Ideally an Agile vision had some focus applied to a set of core values. Let’s assume we arrived at a small set of values that was primarily focused on delivering high-quality software (How Good?) and having rapid time to market (How Fast?). We would want to choose a small set of metrics that can give us an understanding of how we are doing against both of those aspirations. As a starting point it is probably wise to select one or two metrics that best describes how we are doing in each of those two areas. The following version of the ACVF shows some possible candidate metrics that could be the key success indicators for each of the four value patterns.

Careful consideration should be given to choosing the right set of metrics. Here are some things to think about when choosing a metric:

  • Ideally, the key metrics should be easy to measure.
  • There should be an obvious logical relationship between the metrics and the core values.
  • The metrics should be hard to game.
  • They should encourage and reinforce the desired change.
  • Good metrics should, as Edward Tufte put it, “reveal the truth.”
  • Lastly, everyone should be able to point to a metric and clearly understand what decisions are going to be made based on what truth that metric reveals.

It is also important to have an understanding of how those metrics can be used to compare the future and current states. If you don’t currently have a comparable metric in place, you should first establish a baseline for those metrics in the current state.

One of the challenges that organizations are likely to face is some of the metrics aligned to the core values cannot be captured quantitatively in the current state. When faced with that situation, a practical solution would be to capture a qualitative version of the metric in both the current and future states using a technique such as a periodic survey of stakeholder impressions, and then start capturing a more quantitative version of the metric so you can measure improvement over time.

This table gives a set of possible candidate metrics grouped by the four quadrants of the ACVF. Use this tool in your organization to begin a conversation about using an Agile metrics program as part of your Agile transformation.

Resources

“Building Your Company’s Vision”. Collins, James C. and Porras, Jerry I. (1996). Harvard Business Review.

“Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture”. Cameron, Kim S. and Quinn, Robert E. (1999).

“The Visual Display of Quantitative Information”.  Tufte, Edward.  (1983).


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