Agile Metrics in Practice #7: Tips for collecting and analysing data

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

The first time a software delivery team logs in to their dashboard to view practice insights can go one of two ways.  Either, they’re excited to see their agile practices visualised and illuminated with trend lines and callouts on where to improve. Or, their faces are looking as blank as their dashboard from nothing to show.  This second case is most often the consequence of a poor data set driven by team members using different tools or the same tools inconsistently.  Right here is the first signal to your team’s practice maturity, and first base for starting your continuous improvement journey.

Any action you decide to take to improve your team’s performance is only as good as the analysis you undertake.  And your analysis will only be as good as the data you collect. Generating the richest data set you can is a foundation for putting agile metrics into practice.  This post offers tips to ensure you’re generating as much useful data as possible so that your analysis is meaningful and you can amplify your continuous improvement efforts.


Tip 1: Shift to a digital toolset.


In the spirit of flexibility and freedom (and a pre-pandemic era), there are times when a whiteboard and Post-it notes have best served our team’s delivery success.  We adopted this approach to magnify focus by making our tasks and flow more visible in the room. We also went analogue to take a break from our digital dependency and make sure our processes genuinely served us and not our tools.    The greatest challenge we found with analogue tools came from having to collect and maintain a record of events that would later feed a bigger picture of trends. Another challenge was that analogue practices don’t support virtual teams working remotely. Digitising your toolset automates the collection of data in real-time, reducing effort, complexity and room for error.  Going digital also facilitates greater inclusivity for remote and distributed teams.


Tip 2: Maintain discipline and rigour.


The Agile mindset relies on discipline and rigour.  Whilst this mindset does not promote heavyweight or highly ceremonious process, it does call for balance between structure and flexibility, requiring a high degree of discipline and rigour to execute and maintain this balance. Structure comes from maximising your investment in a nominated set of tools to support your software delivery lifecycle and getting everyone to use it with a minimum degree of consistency. Adoption on both fronts will require solid agreement and discipline from the team.  The effort however will be worth it, with the fruit of such rigour delivering the richest possible dataset to tell the fullest possible story on how your practices are or aren’t setting you up for success.


Tip 3: Get everyone on the same tools.

This may seem obvious to you, but your tool sets are your nominated source of truth, particularly if you want to mine them for insights into how your team is functioning.  This is especially important when teams aren’t co-located or are working with augmented team members from consultants or delivery partners.


Tip 4: Use your tools consistently.

Ensuring everyone is using your nominated tool set in the same way will bring uniformity, alignment and an enhanced momentum from being on the same page. Setting some minimum norms to ensure everyone is using your tools in the same way also makes it easier to onboard and integrate new team members.

As an example, let’s unpack the minimum norms for how your team might consistently use your project tracking tool:

  1. Create a task for all of your meaningful tasks, whether it’s identified as part of your formal planning sessions or arises mid-iteration and is prioritised to be worked on.
  2. Tag tasks with as much data as possible, including a description, start and end dates, the person to whom it’s assigned and an estimate for how long or how complex you think the task is relative to the other items you’re working on. Other potential tags you might create include a campaign with a feature, team name, product name, target release. Tags will also help you to sort, aggregate your data much easier.
  3. Define when a task is done. Clear agreement across your team and stakeholders on what it means to complete a task consistently means you’ll be able to trust your data.


Tip 5. Focus on the practices, the data will look after itself

An objective measurement system that underpins the success of HOW your team delivers software will only be as good as the data that feeds it.  All too often have we seen teams that are keen to learn be let down by inconsistencies in the tools they use, and how they use them.  Remember, the aim here is to be building a set of agile delivery practices that are constantly improving and maturing.  Your practices will generate a rich dataset captured automatically by your tools of their own accord. Once you get these basics down pat, the data will look after itself, ensuring you get deep and rich insights out of your measurement system. Agile metrics in practice after all is about liberating your team from inefficiencies and setting you up for delivery success.


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