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Nov 20, 2021

How do you measure progress in your Agile transformation?

As lead developer he asked me: “and, what are you going to say we need to do to be Agile? How do we know it’s not complete and utter bulls**t?” A very legitimate question to ask of an Agile coach that is paid to supposedly make things more Agile.

What would you have answered?

Well, we feel it’s time to introduce metrics to prove to anyone to see that money is well-spend, or not. And before we can conclude the Agile initiative, the transformation of the organization is indeed the emperor without clothes, we may need to understand the underlying steps of transformation.

In this blog we can see a high-level overview of the transformation. We are currently working on describing in clear words what the general phases are and which challenges are on the road to continuous exploration, integration, deployment and happy customers.

Underlying steps of an Agile transformation

A brief overview of transformations shows how, at the beginning, there is a rising tension as to why change is necessary and what it will entail. Then, plunging in the deep with choices such as “create Scrum teams, Agile Release Trains, and be SAFe!”, people will feel frustration and loss of meaning. While experimenting and learning to think and act based on the new reality, the collection of people we call organization will adjust itself and move into the new direction. Somehow. Compare this to the levels of learning: can you see how we become aware, first by seeing our current incompetence in the light of new information? So, we need time to learn before we can see results materialize.

The emperor’s new clothes

This short tale written by Hans Christian Andersen tells about the deceit of two hero weavers that promise an emperor a new suit of invisible clothes. In Agile terms, this would be the promise of the cloak of Agility which implicitly promises “things to be better from now on”. In reality, Agile’s most used framework Scrum, which is a set of management practices for product development, promises realistic progress.

Realistic progress in a government agency where the IT provider has been covering up lies about progress resulted in a new tender process; Realistic progress in an insurance company did not matter the first few years because there were too many take-overs and money flowed anyway. Then, when pressure applied and metrics put in place, the transparency resulted in a bit of chaos for departments in shifting who to blame and asking internally what to do next to reach real Agility.

Measure to learn

To pass from the stage of incompetence metrics can be a good basis to talk and discuss our realistic situation. Metrics help the organization from conscious incompetence (base-line measurement) towards competence. We propose five metrics to track whether Agility is materializing or staying a hoax, a hype without real body.

  • Delivering value: e.g. appreciation score of the ‘customer’.
  • Quality of delivery: # defects after delivery / release.
  • Speed of delivery: lead time from ‘to do’ to ‘done’ of the total product.
  • Accuracy of planning: % delivered vs planned
  • Work experience: work experience score with an App such as Ninjafy

Meaningful transformation

When you feel that Agile is not materializing, it makes sense to measure progress. In fact, throw most management reportings overboard that try to measure the process of how to get to results and go straight to outcome based measurement. As you may recall, the Agile manifesto describes a right side, very much focussed on process control and output, and a left side, focussed on empirical control and outcomes.

A colleague of mine joined a large organization to support their transformation. Immediately he jumped on finding data to put a finger on how long it took the organization to create real value for customers. On average it took 40 weeks. He looked at the data, the waiting time in between all departments and specialists. He judged based on experience that this could be improved to an average of 20 weeks delivery time.

This goal and metrics in place to (dis)prove progress are a driving force to improve with any Lean-Agile tricks in the book.

With that he set the bar for the transformation. Any difficult moment they now met, they just had to look at this concrete promise and improvements made towards it. This goal and metrics in place to (dis)prove progress are a driving force to improve with any Lean-Agile tricks in the book. Like giving engineers time to breath and think; increasing close collaboration between specialists of various departments; prioritizing instead of organizing for busy-ness.

Realistic Agile transformation will first make you aware of painful truths. What you do then is something to put metrics on. Otherwise you’ll run the risk of shaming a naked emperor.


Conscious competence model, Gordon Training. 29 August 2018, Online!

A cycle of change: the transition curve (1995). Cranfield University, School of management. 29 August 2018, Online!

Ken Schwaber about Scrum (2006). 29 August 2018, Online!

Ninjafy App, presentation. 29 August 2018, Online!

About the Author: Abram Janse

Abram Janse is trainer and coach at Gladwell Academy. He supports the development of social innovation and specializes in interactive agile and change management training. Here he makes use of serious gaming, gamification and online learning platforms for a playful and fun transfer of knowledge and skills.

Written by Gladwell Academy, but most of our content is created by trainers and partnering experts!