Moving Visibility and Measurement Up the Organization Ladder

A couple of the benefits Agile has given us is adding visibility to teamwork and moving us away from individual measurements as our primary way of measuring progress and issues. For example, in order to forecast completion, we replaced individual task estimates with team velocity. This visibility into the team’s work and measurements of that work helps direct a team’s focus to improving the ability to deliver value to the customer as often as possible. But 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 is visibility into how the organization/system works, and measurements that help management see where the system has issues so that they can show them to the teams and help guide them to make good team adjustments. This is where I see a great benefit in the concepts, principles and practices from Kanban, system thinking, theory of constraints and Lean.

Agile visibility

More visibility up the organization ladderScrum/XP/iterative planning helps 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 team’s control. Although the impact of these problems is made visible, their exact cause is not made visible and the team does not necessarily fully understand them. 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 its 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 that 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 (to paraphrase @alshalloway, “manage the workflow, not the people”).

This visibility will 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 so 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 of the problem. 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 management can see that a team is waiting on another team. They can see that a team is producing work with which another team cannot integrate 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 push 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). #Kanban is a management method not a process.” Agile/Scrum/XP has visualization mechanisms and measurements that help teams see issues they control and effects of things outside their control. Kanban adds visualizations and measurements that help managers see the cause of the problems outside the team’s 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. Let’s move past just making teamwork transparent and measuring teams. Let’s make workflow and system issues visible to everyone and use the measurement trends to move us towards a common goal.

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