Want to Improve? Pick Dueling Metrics

Significant focus on analytics has become central to Digital Technology Transformations in the past few years. In these complex days of digital technology and its rapid evolution have many businesses questioning how to best measure success.  From this analytics pursuit, a conversation regarding One Metric That Matters (OMTM) has also grown. In my experience, the reason that the OMTM conversation is so popular is leadership tends to want each of their favorite metrics involved in the success definition.  That desire results in 7-10 metrics of success and a list something like the below which is too unwieldy to track, manage and learn from: 

  • Sprint Success 
  • Sprint Burndown 
  • Velocity 
  • Escaped defects 
  • Build success 
  • Cycle Time 
  • Sprint Scope Change 
  • Team Happiness 
  • Team Member turnover 
  • Etc, etc, etc 

From this list we ask teams to judge their output and outcomes, then find ways to improve.   This type of overwhelming measurement set teams in motion to reduce those measures and look to the theory of OMTM which is often seen as the one magic metric to get everyone off their collective backs. 

Interestingly, I have witnessed both the use of too many metrics and then not enough. At one client, the pursuit of metrics and measures became the single biggest impediment of the team.  Several execs insisted on their own favorites and wanted frequent “readouts” about those metrics.  In this case, the Scrum Master and Product Owner became so consumed with reporting on these metrics that it became their full-time jobs.  The result was very little attention being paid to the backlog or current Sprint – so the team’s progress ground to a halt. 

In another case, I saw a team get so entwined searching for the “perfect” OMTM that they measured nothing at all – they just could not find the right single metric that encompassed everything they needed it to be.  My point is the pursuit of too many or too few measures should not be that consuming.  The reinforcement of metric-driven continuous improvement is at the heart of this recommendation – find a handful of useful measures and use them to improve! 

According to Benjamin Yokovit, author of Lean Analytics: Use Data to Build a Better Startup Faster, “In the world of analytics and data, One Metric That Matters (OMTM) means picking a single metric that’s incredibly important for the step you’re currently working through.  The OMTM is the one number you’re completely focused on above everything else for your current stage.” 

As you can guess, I very much support the thought of greatly reduced measures and metrics, but I have witnessed OMTM causing some bad habits due to its potential for oversimplification.  Plainly, success in a single metric can cause teams to focus and behave too myopically and potentially ineffectively. 

Instead, I would propose an amendment to OMTM.  Let’s call it Two Metrics That Compete (TMTC).  In this approach, we pick two metrics that have natural friction with each other causing teams to build better habits, improve more obviously and deliver better outcomes. 

As an example, perhaps Velocity competing with Escaped Defects or Cycle Time competing with Sprint Scope Changes.  In the first example – moving faster (velocity) without deep concern for quality (escaped defects) does not serve a team or its customers well.  Concurrent success in these two metrics is difficult and that is the point.  At Vaco Agile we promote the pursuit of balance in our approach to metrics which leads to higher performing teams with better long-term habits. 

We want teams to build great habits. By using a “Dueling Metrics” approach (TMTC) teams are challenged to be much better in their habits, actions, and outcomes.