Velocity: A Measure of Productivity, Speed or Predictability?

In my many agile conversations with senior stakeholders and others who are learning about agile, I have been frequently asked by them about:

  1. How do you measure productivity in agile?
  2. Is there a KPI which tracks productivity of agile team and individual members working in that team?
  3. Is velocity a measure of productivity?
  4. Does velocity of team required to increase every sprint, so that they can be called a high performing agile team?
  5. Is story point the only way to capture and measure velocity?

On one hand, these questions are interesting but on other hand these also questions the basic understanding of agile in a larger community in the organization. So, I thought of writing this blog post to present my thoughts and understanding about velocity and in general productivity measurement for agile teams. So, let’s start with;

What is Velocity?

In my understanding, velocity of a team is a rate at which an agile team completes the planned/forecasted work in a particular sprint i.e. number of planned workitems reached to “Done” state in 2-4 weeks of time.

Purpose of Velocity?

Velocity helps an agile team to know predictability of the team and also helps the team to forecast the number of work items it can complete in next sprint. Predictability is planned work items in a sprint versus done work items. For e.g. if a team planned 10 work items in a sprint and completes 5 work items at the end of the sprint then this team’s predictability is 50% and you can expect this team to be completing around 50% of work items planned in next sprint. On average, if this remains the number of work items completed in few sprints, then it becomes the average velocity of the team and one can say that team can plan/forecast 5 work items in upcoming sprints.

Benefits of using and tracking velocity of the team

  1. It tells team’s predictability.
  2. It enables empiricism in team.
  3. Gives team an opportunity to brainstorm on improving teams’s predictability in each inspect and adapt events.
  4. Helps team to maintain a sustainable cadence of done product increment.

As an agile practitioner what I can say is that velocity of the team is not a measure of productivity. If a team is able to improve their velocity then they have just improved their predictability. The velocity of the team can decrease in one sprint and can increase in next sprint.

Asking team to increase velocity in every sprint so that they are completing twice the number of work items in their stipulated capacity does not help team and in long run team’s morale go down and impacts the speed and quality of delivery.

Also, let me set the context for story point. Story point is an estimation technique which is employed by many mature agile teams which have clear understanding of the requirement and most of these mature teams do swarming to complete the work. It helps these mature agile teams to quickly estimate the PBIs/user stories during sprint planning as they have clear understanding of the requirements and can relatively assign a point to PBI based on it’s complexity, size and business value.

Story point is not the only way to capture and measure velocity. It differs from team to team; what mechanism they choose to track their velocity. Some teams are knowledgeable and have experience in relatively sizing their PBIs, few other teams track their velocity on effort/capacity or on number of done product increments delivered.

Teams working in agile increases their efficiency or productivity through continuous collaboration, continuous feedback, use of automation tools to complete mundane tasks and by employing best engineering practices that reduces waste and decreases the cycle time.

Share your views in the comment section about the post. Also, please let me know, if you are reporting productivity KPIs to management, how you are doing that and how it helped the team to increase the speed and quality of product increment.

References:

  1. https://www.scrum.org/resources/blog/agile-metrics-velocity

Published by Raveesh Mishra

Transforming organisation's excellence through agile and DevOps practices, Business solutions, IT delivery management, Programme management and Quality Management.

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