Agile Metrics in Practice #1: Start with why

A series for self-managed agile delivery teams wanting to continuously improve and stay ahead.

I’ve always been a fan of @Raydalio, and specifically his work titled Principles.  Today’s insta insight is on point: “Logic, reason and common sense are your best tools for synthesizing reality and understanding what to do about it”.

One of the greatest gifts you can do for yourself and your team is to strengthen the way you practice a culture of being data informed.  It’s the surest way to increasing agility, control and confidence in fast paced, highly changing environments. Being data informed is a team muscle; it weakens or strengthens based on how often you use it.  It’s a ‘practice’ that needs practice. It’s deeply tied to your team’s mindset of success and the skill of continuously learning, adapting and evolving HOW you deliver great outcomes for your customers.

What’s a metric anyway?

Being data-informed goes hand in hand with a love of metrics. As Martin and Sinatra sang in the classics: “you can’t have one without the other!”

Most simply, a metric is:

“a standard or system of measurement” –

“a method of measuring something, or the results obtained from this” – Google.

When thinking about the scope of metrics for this series, we define it as a measure of practices applied by agile software delivery teams across the software delivery lifecycle.   They are derived from data readily available in delivery tools and can refer to a single piece of data from a single tool or a combination of data points from multiple tools.

7 reasons why agile teams should build a data driven way of working

Like anything in life, building good habits and investing time in practicing a data informed way of working requires an investment of energy, time and discipline.  So why would you bother? I can’t encourage you enough to have a conversation with your team about how being data informed could improve the way you work.  Once you’re clear on your WHY, it will be easier to commit and go the distance in building good habits and reaping the rewards.

  1. Make consistently sharper decisions.In Thinking, Fast and Slow, author and Economics Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman debates the merits of intuition vs. formulas.  Most notably he refers to an original study where statistical predictions were proven to be more accurate than subjective clinical predictions which has sparked 50 years of research comprising more than 200 studies on the topic. About 60% of studies have shown significantly better accuracy for the algorithm, with the other studies scoring a draw in accuracy for the algorithms.  It’s explained that one of the reasons we make inferior decisions when left to subjective opinion is that we try to be clever, think outside the box and consider complex combinations of features and drivers when making decisions. Another reason is that humans are ‘incorrigibly inconsistent’ when making summary judgements of complex information.  When asked to evaluate the same information twice we frequently give different answers.
  1. Know where you’re at.

    Most tech leaders get caught in the whirlwind of the day to day things coming at them.  The most successful leaders I’ve seen are those that get above the whirlwind so they can see the causes and effects at play.  There’s no point in setting an objective with destination ‘B’ in mind if you don’t know your starting point is actually ‘A’. How do you know what to focus on, and what the quickest route might be? For each problem, identify the reason behind it so you can have an informed unbiased conversation around the drivers or root cause.  If you don’t look into your habits as they occur, you won’t be able to understand what things are symptomatic or how that are changing through time – i.e. are they getting better or worse? First step is always to establish your baseline, and then to look at the trends or patterns that got you there.

  2. Communicate and collaborate freely.

    By removing bias and perception and leaning on facts, team leaders improve their believability and credibility. Leaders that are most believable when influencing stakeholders and aligning people on a path or decision are those who have repeatedly and successfully accomplished the thing in question. They have also demonstrated that they can logically explain the cause-effect relationships behind their conclusions. Nothing enhances believability when story telling with supporting evidence, anecdotes or the cold hard facts.  Fake news erodes trust, whilst believability and credibility are built on trust. Increase your believability and authority when making recommendations or setting a new objective to improve a particular practice or outcome.

  3. Build deeper trust from truth and transparency

    Understanding what is true is essential for success. If you’re handling things well, transparency will make that clear, and if things aren’t going so well, transparency will make that clear as well so it helps to maintain high standards. The more people can see what’s happening – the good the bad and the ugly – the more effective and empowered your team can be in deciding the collective course of action.  This approach is also invaluable for training and learning.  Learning is compounded and accelerated when everyone has the opportunity to see the same information and discuss options in a shared way.  Trust grows when you give your team the right to see things for themselves is better than forcing them to rely on information processed for them by others.  Building information asymmetry allows the team to dram on the talents and insights of all its members to solve the problems you’re dealing with. Finally, meaningful relationships and meaningful work are mutually reinforcing when supported by a culture of truth and transparency.

  4. Align expectations

    Getting and staying in synch is essential to success. For a team to be effective, you must be not only be aligned internally, but also with your stakeholders and customers on many levels.  If expectations aren’t aligned or met, a conversation can quickly get stuck and trust erodes.  Sometimes, people get angry and you can spin wheels unproductively.  Whilst it might not always facilitate speedy alignment, injecting facts through data can often remove emotion and allows more space for finding common ground and aligning on the path forward.

  5. Continuously improve

    “Sustainable competitive advantage is achieved through the development of a continuously self-adjusting culture.  Adaptation is not a recreation, but a continual action, so plan and respond.” – James Kerr, Legacy.

    Continuous is a marvellous word, and is prevalent in agile terminology: continuous integration, continuous delivery, continuous testing etc. It’s entwined with the thinking of evolution, being able to adapt or die.  It refers to breaking the shackles of mediocrity and stagnation and is central to building a culture of high expectations and growth. It taps an innate desire to show up and bring our best selves to our work, knowing that is consistently changing and evolving based on the team we practice with, the goals you share and the customers you serve.

  6. Take ownership

    Measuring your team lies at the heart of being self-managed and self-directed. Agile delivery teams need to flex this muscle if they are going to be truly autonomous and build mastery.   Taking ownership requires a team to track themselves with metrics that are easy to obtain and communicate across all stakeholders.  Self-directed teams take ownership for their own learning and development, based on a shared understanding of where they need to focus.  Empowered with supporting proof points, self-managed teams are entrusted with the desired level of accountability and responsibility that fits their capability and passion.


Get clear with yourself and your team on why the practice of applying agile metrics matter most to you.  Get in synch around it, and use the many pauses offered by agile ceremonies to notice their benefits and influence on your way of working.

I leave the final word to management guru Peter Drucker:

“You can’t improve something if you don’t measure it”


Umano is on a mission to help self-directed teams succeed by providing real-time feedback with data-driven insights that help agile teams to continually improve and stay ahead.

Sign up here to access your complimentary Umano account and see how your team’s agile sprint practices are tracking.

Join our slack community to learn from others and be a part of the data-driven movement to improving team performance.