Establishing a Baseline for Product Development Improvement – Going beyond “Why”?

Many organizations move toward a more agile way of working without fully understanding the benefits that they are trying to capture. While coaches and consultants, yours truly included, emphasize that they should start with their “Why?” (shout-out to Simon Sinek), the “Why?” will only get you so far. Stating that we want to “Decrease time to market”, “Increase Quality”, or “Improve throughput” are fine statements of intent. However, they are unquantifiable in most organizations. Because many organizations don’t track any metrics related to these statements it’s impossible to determine if their efforts in the Agile space are having any of the desired impact.

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To address this challenge, I recommend that an organization establish some baseline metrics in order to measure the effectiveness and efficiency of their product development process. Metrics to consider in this regard are as follows:

  • Average Throughput – How much work does the organization complete over a defined period. Note that to calculate this metric there needs to be an agreed upon Definition of Done for the organization. Creating a Definition of Done is a tricky endeavor which I’ll discuss in a future blog.
  • Lead Time – This is measured as the amount of time between something being requested by the users or customers and that request being reflected in a working product.
  • Cycle Time – How much time does the product spend from beginning to end in the development process? Another way to think about it is Lead Time minus the time the work spends waiting until work starts on it.
  • Quality Metric – While there are number of quality metrics that one could select here, I like to look at “Defect escapes” – how many defects are escaping our development process and being discovered in production. Alternatives include metrics like production support tickets or calls.
  • Customer or User Satisfaction – Similar to “Quality metric” above, there are several metrics that could be used in this space including the ever-popular Net Promoter Score (NPS). I recommend using whatever is the simplest to collect and analyze.

Capturing initial values for these types of metrics will allow organizations to establish a baseline for how their current product development process is (or is not) functioning. More importantly, they can use these initial values to help set goals for how moving to a more Agile way of working will impact them. Setting these goals will help quantify the “why” behind their efforts and determine the impact of any investments in training and/or coaching.

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