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You're Measuring Velocity Wrong

Est Reading Time: 2 min

Devon Bleibtrey
Devon Bleibtrey

Apr 26, 2020

Velocity - The measure of how quickly your team can build features, bugs, enhancements, or complete story points. Why is this how teams measure success? Popular tools have evangelized it as the quintessential method, but it isn’t how we should be figuring out the performance of our teams. Instead, we should be gauging the velocity of something else. The velocity of our team reaching company objectives.

Company objectives are not features, user stories, or job stories. They are where we want to be in the future and how we measure being there. A new feature is an idea that is worth testing with users to see if it moves the needle on reaching our company objectives. Publishing more of them may or may not get us to that future quicker. Some might even take us in the opposite direction, increasing technical debt and ongoing overhead. There are plenty of frameworks out there to help set up achievable objectives; I’d recommend Andrew Grove’s Objectives and Key Results (OKR) as evangelized by John Doerr in Measure What Matters and used by Google, LinkedIn, and Intel.

The TLDR on objective frameworks is to set aspirational goals, define how you measure their success, figure out what your current reality is, break down the steps to get from that current reality to your goals, and then get started. To figure out how to make progress on your key results, the measurements of successfully reaching your objective, you build out experiments that track what impact your actions have on moving the needle. These experiments can be adding a feature, creating an enhancement, writing a blog post, providing updated training material, or anything the team is doing to try to achieve their key results. A great way to design these experiments and measure them can be found in the LEAN Startup by Eric Ries, who defines an experimentation framework.

At the meta-level, our goal is not to measure success by the number of experiments we can do but instead how effective our experiments are at helping us move the needle towards each of our company objectives. This effectiveness can come in how quickly we learn what reality is and whether we should pivot or persevere in our actions.

It is easy to fall into a pattern where we believe the next feature will increase our user base or solve a problem we’re having. This anti-pattern, unfortunately, can turn into busy work that isn’t helping the team accomplish its goals. Having alignment on what our overarching objectives are, and being able to measure where we are, spotlights whether a new feature is having an impact or if we need to pivot our efforts. That is why measuring the velocity of obtaining defined key results is a better bellwether that enables us to identify emerging gaps and rally behind teammates who are facing them to ensure we’re accomplishing our goals.

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