Top 5 Sprint Metrics to Report to Your Stakeholders

If you are leading or working on an Agile team, you will most likely need to communicate progress and status to your leadership at some point. Many of the teams I have coached fall into common traps of either sharing erroneous metrics or blindly distributing data without providing context and explanation, which often lead to disastrous consequences. When metrics are misinterpreted and/or misused, it can cause a lot of damage to your team because it can generate a lot of questions, create a lot of anxiety for the leadership team, which ultimately translate into more stress for your team that may feel like they are being unfairly scrutinized or criticized. This outcome is bad for morale and will likely impair your team’s performance. Hence, it is my hope that this article will provide some tips and tricks that will enable you to communicate more effectively with your leaders and help you shape them into supporters rather than critics by deploying a sound approach regarding metrics management.

Why does your management care about metrics?

Before we can choose the appropriate metrics to share with your leaders, we must first understand the reasons behind this desire for data. There may be a number of reasons that motivate the management to ask for metrics, and it is important for you to be prepare to explain the data when you present them so that their needs are met. Here are a few questions that may be beneficial to consider:

  1.     Are the managers accustomed to seeing traditional health status reports (i.e. Red/Yellow/Green status)? 
  2.     Do the leaders need data to feel comfortable with your team’s performance?
  3.     Is there a lack of trust by the management due to previous history?
  4.     Will the data provide an accurate representation of how the team is performing? Is additional context necessary to tell the whole story?

If you are able to answer these questions to yourself, you should be in a good position to start preparing the metrics for broader consumption. While this may feel like a lot of extra work that you did not anticipate, having a sound communication strategy is a key technique that many Agile teams often forget to focus on, and are forced to learn the lessons the hard way.

Which metrics matter most?

Assuming that transparency is appreciated and open communication is the norm in your organization, routinely reporting metrics to your leadership team will usually facilitate a fact-based approach to project delivery, which can be a tremendous asset for your project team. Before we dive into the specific metrics I recommend, let’s first clarify the objective of the metrics.

  1.     Communicate progress to maximize understanding
  2.     Share successes to build confidence
  3.     Clarify value being delivered

Ultimately, what truly matters to most organizations is that value is being generated, and that customer expectations are being met. The metrics you share should the directly connected to these themes so that your leaders will understand the overall impact your team is making. Here are a few basic metrics that you may want to consider as starting points.

  1.     % stories completed vs. planned – Notice that this is a percentage metric, not pure story points (or velocity). This is a nuanced yet important distinction that may teams miss; reporting pure velocity (i.e. 100 story points completed) is not as valuable as percentage completed versus planned because discrete velocity offers no context. What does “100 points” mean? Is that good or bad? There is no basis for comparison, which can often lead to managers comparing Agile teams against each other based purely on story points completed; this is one of the worst uses for this metric that will usually lead to meaningless competition amongst teams and story point inflation. By looking at percent complete versus planned, we can see how well the team did against the original plan, and also evaluate the trends over time to see if a team is improving their ability to plan/forecast work.
  2.     % stories accepted – Acceptance of work is important to track because it demonstrates value being delivered; this assumes of course that your Product Owner is providing an accurate representation for the end-users/customers. If your team can consistently achieve 90+% acceptance, that demonstrates that you have a high-performing team.
  3.     Defect rate – Quality is an important measure that is often forgotten by organizations that are usually more obsessed with schedule delays and cost overruns. Even if your team is not producing software products, you can still measure quality and defects and evaluate the trend over time to communicate the team’s performance.
  4.     User satisfaction – Although it is often challenging to obtain direct feedback from the customers on a regular basis, this is a critical metric that is worth tracking because customer sentiments will have significant impact over the longevity of your team and your organization. Metrics such as NPS (Net Promoter Score) can provide a simple yet effective way to determine how your customers perceive your product or service.
  5.     Team happiness – Another measure that is often forgotten is team morale. How happy is your team? Are they engaged and motivated to do their best work? Do they have the support they need to create innovative products? If you aren’t paying attention to your team’s health, there’s a chance that they may not be as inspired as you may think, which may be a risk to your project.

How to handle misuse of metrics

Sooner or later, someone important or in a high-level position within your company will likely misinterpret the data that your team carefully communicated, despite your best efforts. How should you deal with this situation? The best approach in my opinion is to educate, educate, and educate some more. You may need to set up individual 1-on-1 meetings with this key sponsor or stakeholder to help him/her gain the proper understanding of the data. Try to resist the temptation of comparing your team against other teams. If you absolutely must do so, be sure to focus on business objectives and relative percentages instead of absolute values. Remember, your management is simply trying to understand how things are going, and they need time to learn and adapt as well.

Wrapping Up

I have a feeling that you probably didn’t think deploying metrics requires this much work. Developing an effective metrics plan is no small feat, but the risk of not doing so will likely be too great for you to ignore. When it comes to data, we are all easily influenced by what we see, which means we need to take care to focus on the right measures that will help us communicate the right story in the right moments; this can make a huge difference when it comes to project sponsorship and overall project success.

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Eugene Lai, Contributor
Eugene Lai, Contributor