The Agile Transformation and Its Metrics

In ret­ro­spect, I con­sid­er it one of my biggest mis­takes to have always cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly reject­ed met­rics for the agile trans­for­ma­tion. Although I still see the dan­ger of an explo­sion of car­go cult if phe­nom­e­na of agili­ty are mea­sured and reward­ed instead of the essence, I would con­scious­ly take the risk today. For soon­er or lat­er, in every trans­for­ma­tion, there comes a time when the ques­tion is raised very insis­tent­ly as to what all this is meant to achieve and what it brings. And then you have to beat the sys­tem with its own weapons.

Is it pos­si­ble to mea­sure agili­ty? And if so, how and with what? Orga­ni­za­tions that have been oper­at­ing very suc­cess­ful­ly in a plan-dri­ven man­ner for many years and are there­fore used to think­ing in terms of met­rics will raise these ques­tions soon­er rather than lat­er in their jour­ney towards more agili­ty. Unwa­ver­ing is the belief in the dog­ma that you can only man­age what you can mea­sure. But is this dog­ma actu­al­ly true? And is it some­how use­ful and applic­a­ble to agile transformation?

It is wrong to sup­pose that if you can’t mea­sure it, you can’t man­age it – a cost­ly myth.

W. Edwards Dem­ing, The New Eco­nom­ics, S. 35

As orig­i­na­tors of this dog­ma either W. Edwards Dem­ing or Peter F. Druck­er are named. But nei­ther Dem­ing nor Druck­er ever said so. On the con­trary, both were well aware of the lim­its of mea­sur­a­bil­i­ty, espe­cial­ly when it comes to peo­ple and leadership.

Of course it would be desir­able to be able to con­trol an orga­ni­za­tion or a change project with GPS accu­ra­cy: Deter­mine posi­tion, act, deter­mine changed posi­tion and thus decide direc­tion and progress. Where that is pos­si­ble, one should of course do exact­ly that. In the vast major­i­ty of cas­es, how­ev­er, this will not be pos­si­ble or at least not eas­i­ly and direct­ly. Nev­er­the­less some­how deci­sions and actions have to be taken.

Not every­thing that counts can be count­ed, and not every­thing that can be count­ed counts.

Albert Ein­stein

For a long time, I was firm­ly con­vinced that mea­sur­ing agili­ty and man­ag­ing agile trans­for­ma­tion with met­rics leads direct­ly into car­go cult hell. What real­ly counts, the effec­tive­ness, val­ue ori­en­ta­tion, adapt­abil­i­ty, resilience, cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion or employ­ee sat­is­fac­tion, is quite dif­fi­cult to measure.

On the oth­er hand, there are of course things that can be eas­i­ly observed and mea­sured, the col­or­ful sticky notes, the back­logs, the sto­ry points and the veloc­i­ty of the teams, filled agile roles and com­plet­ed train­ings and much more. But all of this is not the essence of agili­ty, but rather phe­nom­e­na that can be observed in agile orga­ni­za­tions. These forms arise from the essence, but the essence can­not be forced by imi­tat­ing the form.

If we start mea­sur­ing and reward­ing these phe­nom­e­na in cor­po­rate cul­tures with­out suf­fi­cient psy­cho­log­i­cal safe­ty, but with all kinds of indi­vid­ual per­for­mance incen­tives linked to met­rics, the result will nec­es­sar­i­ly remain a shal­low car­go cult. These were my argu­ments so far.

In ret­ro­spect, how­ev­er, I now con­sid­er it one of my biggest mis­takes to have always more or less cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly reject­ed the mea­sure­ment of agili­ty and met­rics for the agile trans­for­ma­tion. Although I still see the dan­ger of an explo­sion of car­go cult, I would con­scious­ly take the risk today or lim­it it by very care­ful selec­tion of the metrics.

Soon­er or lat­er, in every trans­for­ma­tion, there comes a time when the ques­tion is raised very force­ful­ly as to what all this is for and brings about. And the only lan­guage in which an answer to this ques­tion will be under­stood and accept­ed is the lan­guage of met­rics. Espe­cial­ly when the eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion of the com­pa­ny has wors­ened since the begin­ning of the trans­for­ma­tion, the basic mood towards the trans­for­ma­tion is per­haps threat­en­ing to tilt, or even when key pro­tag­o­nists have left the com­pa­ny meanwhile.

You have to beat the sys­tem you actu­al­ly want to over­come with its own weapons, oth­er­wise the sys­tem will even­tu­al­ly strike back relentlessly.

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By Marcus Raitner

Hi, I'm Marcus. I'm convinced that elephants can dance. Therefore, I accompany organizations on their way towards a more agile way of working. Since 2010 I regularly write about leadership, digitization, new work, agility, and much more in this blog. More about me.


Hal­lo Marcus,

bin ger­ade über deinen Artikel gestolpert. Welche Metriken sind es denn die du nutzen würdest ganz konkret?


Eine aus­geze­ich­nete Frage, Basti. Ich ver­suche drei Dimen­sio­nen abzudecken: 

Kunde: Wie hat sich das Kun­den­feed­back / die Kun­den­zufrieden­heit entwickelt?
Team: Wie hat sich die Mitar­beit­erzufrieden­heit entwickelt?
Pro­dukt: Wie hat sich die Qual­ität des Pro­duk­ts und des Entwick­lung­sprozess­es entwickelt?

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