Is it possible to measure agility? And if so, how and with what? Organizations that have been operating very successfully in a plan-driven manner for many years and are therefore used to thinking in terms of metrics will raise these questions sooner rather than later in their journey towards more agility. Unwavering is the belief in the dogma that you can only manage what you can measure. But is this dogma actually true? And is it somehow useful and applicable to agile transformation?
It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it – a costly myth.W. Edwards Deming, The New Economics, S. 35
As originators of this dogma either W. Edwards Deming or Peter F. Drucker are named. But neither Deming nor Drucker ever said so. On the contrary, both were well aware of the limits of measurability, especially when it comes to people and leadership.
Of course it would be desirable to be able to control an organization or a change project with GPS accuracy: Determine position, act, determine changed position and thus decide direction and progress. Where that is possible, one should of course do exactly that. In the vast majority of cases, however, this will not be possible or at least not easily and directly. Nevertheless somehow decisions and actions have to be taken.
Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.Albert Einstein
For a long time, I was firmly convinced that measuring agility and managing agile transformation with metrics leads directly into cargo cult hell. What really counts, the effectiveness, value orientation, adaptability, resilience, customer satisfaction or employee satisfaction, is quite difficult to measure.
On the other hand, there are of course things that can be easily observed and measured, the colorful sticky notes, the backlogs, the story points and the velocity of the teams, filled agile roles and completed trainings and much more. But all of this is not the essence of agility, but rather phenomena that can be observed in agile organizations. These forms arise from the essence, but the essence cannot be forced by imitating the form.
If we start measuring and rewarding these phenomena in corporate cultures without sufficient psychological safety, but with all kinds of individual performance incentives linked to metrics, the result will necessarily remain a shallow cargo cult. These were my arguments so far.
In retrospect, however, I now consider it one of my biggest mistakes to have always more or less categorically rejected the measurement of agility and metrics for the agile transformation. Although I still see the danger of an explosion of cargo cult, I would consciously take the risk today or limit it by very careful selection of the metrics.
Sooner or later, in every transformation, there comes a time when the question is raised very forcefully as to what all this is for and brings about. And the only language in which an answer to this question will be understood and accepted is the language of metrics. Especially when the economic situation of the company has worsened since the beginning of the transformation, the basic mood towards the transformation is perhaps threatening to tilt, or even when key protagonists have left the company meanwhile.
You have to beat the system you actually want to overcome with its own weapons, otherwise the system will eventually strike back relentlessly.