Monday, March 28, 2016

Say No to Ugly Metrics

One of the perks of my job it that I get to interact with plenty of talented and smart people.  One of them is Andrew Keener and I had the opportunity to spend a few hours with him over beer to discuss game theory, the philosophy of social contract theory and metrics to improve scrum teams.  It was heady stuff and I enjoyed every moment of it and wanted to share a little of the experience with you.

Keener has a very in depth discussion of scrum in metrics on his blog on linkedin.  I will let you read that on your own.  This week I wanted to discuss his notion of ugly metrics.  According to Keener, an ugly metric is one that reinforces the dysfunction of the organization rather than provide a means to improve performance.  Business people want to measure productivity and provide objective measures for how the people under them are doing.  The trouble is that for a creative endeavor like software development it is hard to come up with meaningful ways to do the measurement.

I try to track things which are concrete like bugs in production, how many story points successfully completed by the team, and number of stories flagged as technical debt by the team.  This way we have a means to see where we are and how we can improve. If I started using these metrics as a means of performance then my developers would begin to game the system to drive up their numbers. This inspired the famous 1995 comic strip from Scott Adams below.


So as a scrum master it is our duty to measure things which are relevant to our teams.  It is also important to use those measurements to inspire positive behavior and performance rather than encourage dysfunction in the team.  Otherwise, you are no different than the pointy haired boss Scott Adams loves to mock in his comic strip.

Until next time.