Avoiding the perils of a ‘top down’ approach – and reaping the rewards of a ‘bottom-up’ approach.
In summary, our experience from clients globally shows:
- Value Stream Management (VSM) is gaining big traction within Agile DevOps, as the empirical data shows that it can significantly improve value delivery
- Gartner forecast that 70% of all organisations will adopt a VSM approach by 2023
- End-to-end value stream metrics (and related agile metrics) are central to the concept of Value Stream Management – so that the delivery of value is managed from ideation to live
- Implementing VSM metrics effectively can deliver sustained improvement in key value delivery metrics like Cycle Time, Time to Value, Deployment Frequency and Sprint Accuracy
- Key to the success of implementing value stream metrics is taking a ‘bottom-up’ approach that involves teams and Team Leads from the outset
- Value stream metrics platforms like Platform underpin this bottom-up approach and enable organisations to agree a ‘North Star’ set of delivery metrics that set the overall direction for improving value delivery (sponsored by leadership) – and determinant metrics selected and owned by teams and managers that drive improvement in the shared North Star measures
- In contrast a top-down approach, with metrics selected and ‘imposed’ by technology leadership is very likely to fail, as it is contrary to the decentralised/team-led principles of Agile and may quickly alienate teams, leading to little/no improvement and metric inaccuracy.
The Value Stream Management revolution (see Gartner’s Value Stream Management Market Guide https://www.gartner.com/document/3991130) is turbo-charging the recognition that Agile software delivery requires the measurement (and management) of the value delivery process in its entirety – from ideation to live. Only then can you track and accelerate the delivery of value to customers.
But the measurement of the end-to-end value delivery process is tricky – both in terms of which metrics to select and how to embed their usage for positive effect.
Too often a ‘top-down’ approach is taken, led by technology leadership that ‘imposes’ value stream metrics (or agile delivery metrics) on teams that have not bought-into the process.
As a result, the value stream metrics at best gain little traction, and at worst alienate the hard-working delivery teams upon which the success of the delivery organisation depends.
The size of the prize – implementing an effective metrics-led approach
Gartner’s latest research forecasts that 70% of all organisations will be adopting a Value Stream Management (VSM) approach to software delivery by 2023 (Source: Gartner November 2021).
The VSM framework requires organisations to identify (map) the key ‘value streams’ and then to apply analytics and orchestration to manage the delivery of value from ideation to live, within and across value streams. So, central to the VSM approach is investing in a metrics-led approach to Agile software (value) delivery.
VSM is gaining so much traction as it really does work (if implemented in an inclusive, bottom-up way)!
As the graphic below shows, a successful (bottom-up) approach to metrics-led value delivery can result in quite dramatic improvement in key value delivery metrics such as Time to Value, Deployment Frequency, Flow Efficiency and Sprint Accuracy.
Improvement in key agile metrics achieved through applying a metrics-led approach to software delivery
Source: Anonymised Plandek client data
Choosing value stream metrics
So, what value stream metrics/agile delivery metrics should you choose?
Measurement of effective value delivery can be provided by a whole range of value stream metrics, Agile metrics, delivery metrics, engineering metrics, DevOps metrics, DORA metrics, flow metrics and more. Indeed, there is no shortage of software delivery metrics to choose from.
Plandek’s research shows that as a result of the sheer volume of software delivery measures, most delivery organisations are not confident in selecting delivery metrics and benefit from delivery metrics tools that provide out-of-the-box dashboards with value stream, agile delivery and engineering metrics pre-selected to solve key delivery challenges. The popularity of Plandek Xcelerator dashboards is testament to that.
So, with a bit of background reading and help from value stream analytics tools like Plandek it is relatively easy to settle on a sensible set of value stream/Agile delivery metrics that are suited to your objectives and the challenges your organisation faces.
The perils of a ‘top-down’ approach when introducing value stream metrics
Very often, Value Stream Management initiatives and the related desire to get a better view of the end-to-end value delivery process (via metrics and analytics), is initiated by technology leadership. As such, the temptation is to roll-out a range of value stream/agile delivery metrics via a ‘top-down’ framework.
All our experience shows this to be very unlikely to succeed for two reasons:
- First metrics only work (and lead to better outcomes) if they are broadly adopted, valued and trusted. If scrum teams (squads) and Team Leaders are not involved in metric selection, it is highly likely that they will be ignored, resented and distrusted. Indeed, the ‘big brother is watching you’ approach is completely contrary to the spirit of decentralised, self-determining teams working in an Agile way and will quite rightly be resoundingly rejected by most, if not all teams
- And second, it is vital that teams are closely involved in metric collection as agile delivery metrics very quickly become inaccurate if teams are not constantly managing the metrics configuration, to ensure they match the constantly changing workflows and processes at work within and across teams.
So, a top-down approach is likely to:
- alienate teams
- generate inaccurate metrics; and
- do more harm than good!
The advantages of a ‘bottom-up’ approach to value stream metrics
It is no surprise therefore that we are big fans of a ‘bottom-up’ approach to value stream and agile delivery metrics. And indeed, all our experience across clients globally shows this to be a much more effective approach.
The ‘bottom-up’ approach still tends to be led by technology leadership, but it heavily involves teams in the selection and implementation of value stream/agile delivery metrics from the outset.
It also requires a delivery metrics/analytics platform that is capable of providing highly customisable metrics dashboards for use by all the key personas – from Team Leaders (with their own team-level views) – to Delivery Managers and Product Managers etc – and beyond to technology leadership.
The bottom-up approach is summarised in the graphic below. It involves agreeing a set of ‘North Star’ value delivery metrics that are relevant for the entire organisation and are sponsored by technology leadership. And then working with managers and Team Leaders to agree a set of determinant metrics owned by teams and managers that drive improvement in the agreed overall ‘North Star’ metrics.
The bottom-up approach requires a value stream metrics platform that is capable of providing customised dashboards for different personas and teams.
The graphic below shows an example Plandek team metrics dashboard, including sprint completion metrics owned by the team, that are part of an organisation-wide VSM initiative to improve value delivery.
Example Team level agile metrics dashboard – showing sprint completion metrics
Plandek (www.plandek.com) was co-founded in 2017 by Dan Lee (founder of Globrix) and Charlie Ponsonby (founder of Simplifydigital).
Plandek is an analytics platform to help software delivery teams deliver valuable software, faster and more predictably – across and within value streams.
Plandek works by mining data from delivery teams’ toolsets (such as issue tracking, code repos and CI/CD tools), to provide actionable and intelligent insight across the end-to-end software delivery process.
For enquiries please contact Chris Hood: Chood@plandek.com
For more information on agile delivery metrics, engineering metrics, DevOps metrics and other metrics such as the DORA metrics and flow metrics you can read more on the Plandek website and blog.