The Agile Transformation and Its Metrics

In retrospect, I consider it one of my biggest mistakes to have always categorically rejected metrics for the agile transformation. Although I still see the danger of an explosion of cargo cult if phenomena of agility are measured and rewarded instead of the essence, I would consciously take the risk today. For sooner or later, in every transformation, there comes a time when the question is raised very insistently as to what all this is meant to achieve and what it brings. And then you have to beat the system with its own weapons.

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.

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