….creating products is a complex and challenging activity. With a multiplicity of activities required to develop even the most basic piece of work, how can progress be unambiguously measured?
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As there is no one clear way to develop a new product it is extremely challenging to develop a useful measure of development progress. Measures of progress may be how much time has been spent or effort expended against a plan, but neither of these will measure the total time or effort of delivery until the product is completed. Both of these are tempting to use when the time scale of delivery is long as these will help in the understanding of cost of delivery to date. The side effect of this measurement can be that when cost have reached a certain point and there is nothing of customer facing value to show the effort there will be pressure to deliver whatever can be delivered for least cost with hidden sacrifices (such as quality and burn out).
Modern organisations are often filled with remnants left from previous delivery activities, where corners were cut due to constraints or lack of appropriate quality measures. This makes progress on new products or enhancements of old very challenging, and progress will be slow (i.e. take a long time) and difficult to measure.
Earned value may also be used to measure progress on delivery. Simply put the team calculates the expected value to be earned during activities of delivery, this is compared with the actual cost of what has been delivered, with the difference between the two used to inform whether delivery is on or off track. This measure of progress, though useful, is not without issues; it has no measure of quality, it has no measure of customer satisfaction, there is a high upfront cost to calculating the expected value and the earned value may not reflect value from the customer's perspective.
As organisations grow the urge to keep the internal workings easy to understand creates many locally optimised work practices. For example silos create and reward specialisation that reinforce individuals to think of how to optimise their own work, rather than the work of their team or organisation. As specialists from several silos may be required in product development, measuring progress of this specialist work does not give an accurate description of the state of the product.
Individuals in the organisation will demonstrate the actual values of the organisation (in contrast with the espoused values) through their local work practices. Having individual performance measures that reinforce local silo based behaviours will force the measurement of progress for development within these silos.
Therefore; a product increment must be regularly developed in a time box (no longer than a Sprint). This will give an accurate measure of progress in this complex environment, that demonstrates the quality of the deliverable and value from a customer's perspective. This regular product increment will include as many of the highest
value product backlog items that can be "Done" in the time box.
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The delivery of a regular product increment will give an accurate measure of progress on product development as this requires all the work need to develop the product to be completed for a small component of product. Rather than measure time or effort this will be a measure of all the work required to deliver the end product, when combined with a sprint timebox the measurement of time becomes incredibly simple.
For a team to be able to deliver the product increment they will need to work cross functionally. Supporting the delivery of the increment across their organisational or role silos in a short period of time.
When a team or an organisation is capable of delivering product increments there will be new forces on the organisation.
- Changes to triple constraint. Time is fixed, so scope and cost must vary to support this change.
- Though time is fixed so is the delivery interval, there is no late delivery.
- Reporting on delivery becomes greatly simplified, the increment is done or it is not. This can then decrease amount of internal reporting within the organisation freeing up resources to work on value adding work.
- Measurement of progress is based complete delivery life-cycle rather than progress on a plan, removing abstraction from measurement.
- Internal silos will hinder the development of the product increment and will start to be broken down as teams work cross functionally. This will change the roles for silo management from resource allocation to staff development (often a side-lined responsibility) and thought-leadership.
- Individual measures such as KPIs that do not directly support what is required to deliver a product increment will be seen as detrimental and need to be changed, creating work and changes for how the organisation rewards and remunerates staff.
Author: Lachlan Heasman