You have signed up with a service provider for an enhancement, a managed service, or a new feature (Project) to be delivered using Agile. You are excited about benefiting from the Agile approach through:
However, before an Agile implementation is even deployed and the service provider is engaged, Project teams need to clearly define measurement criteria, status check timelines, and methods for ensuring that the service provider is delivering as promised.
With budgets and resources continually shrinking, the margin for error on a Project of any scope grows increasingly smaller. Project teams cannot afford to miss any steps that can mean the difference between success and failure—and ultimately, profit and loss.
Once a company or a service provider says they are going to deliver using Agile to generate delivery of an outcome, one of the first questions will be, “How do we hold the service provider accountable for Agile delivery, in addition to the outcome?”
Traditional Agile measurement tools will definitely help put a Project in perspective and clearly emphasize the unique value proposition of Agile. Yet, to fully maximize the potential benefits, organizations need to go further. Accountability among Project leaders, both internal to customer and with the service provider, will ensure Project decision makers are not sacrificing long-term value for short-term wins along the way. For example, take a Project owner who is not being held accountable for technical debt, the implied cost to a business associated with not addressing problems in the present that will impact it in the future. In this case, the Project owner may choose a quick-fix approach like using a simplified code that not only quickly solves a technical problem and keeps the project timeline intact but also increases a technical debt that will cost more to fix later.
If a technical debt objective was included as part of the performance management plan (i.e., a goal to reduce technical debt by X%), then the Project manager would be incentivized to prioritize updating that simplified code or to perhaps choose a different path altogether that doesn’t pose a risk to technical debt measures.
In addition to technical debt objectives, additional ways for holding Project leadership accountable involve outcome-based performance measurements: budget adherence, value realization, and quality improvements. These will incentivize teams to maintain Projects that stay true to Agile principles.
In addition to setting the right incentives for Project leaders, it is also important to track the progress of Agile Projects at a more granular level. Fortunately, there is a range of tools that can be used in any given Agile deployment, which are typically not owned by the service provider. If you read into the statistics generated by those tools, you may notice the leading indicators of issues (before they become problems) like a growing backlog of tasks that are not getting completed even after several sprints. That is a definite indicator you're falling behind. Or, you can measure the “velocity” of completing certain tasks. In other words, you can quantify how fast you’re completing tasks during a Project, compared to the original plan.
At the end of a sprint, you can see what you’ve actually completed and in how much time. If the velocity is not as high as you forecasted, it means you're probably falling behind on the overall Project resulting in poor customer satisfaction in the business.
These are only some examples of the leading practices that you can implement to help drive value and understand where, and when, you are lagging behind. And, you can have this throughout the cycle, rather than just waiting until the end and asking, “How did we miss that?”
While the concept and positive aspects of Agile are easy enough to research and understand, potential challenges are that measurement should be based on value to the business, like “responsiveness” for example, as opposed to simply basing success on if a ticket is closed. It can also require more effort on the client’s part by structuring contracts differently to ensure service providers report back to you with sprint updates and ongoing progress reports.
Even though as a client, you might be signing up for Agile service delivery—which most service providers offer as part of their value propositions—we often see companies struggle with questions such as “How do I make sure my service provider is truly delivering in an Agile way?” or “Are they saying it's Agile, but ultimately just delivering the way they want to deliver?”
With an Agile performance management strategy and value realization framework in place, you will incentivize Project leaders to execute in a way that adheres to the Agile methodology you were promised. You will either succeed more quickly or identify challenges more quickly, which affords you the opportunity to change course earlier in the process if needed.
Either way, your Project is more likely to remain on the right path toward its best possible outcome.
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