Quote of the Month September 2019 – Metrics Inflation

A few years back, I was working with an organization where teams were achieving the expected increase in velocity, but leadership didn’t feel like things were moving any faster. Selecting one team, we looked at their history and found that their velocity had gone from an average of about 20 points to an average of about 40. On a hunch, we ran a report to figure out the average story size for each iteration. Sure enough, the average story size had gone from around 1.4 to around 3.1. In fact, you could see a punctuated increase in average size followed by a slow but steady incline. The punctuated increase came right around the time leadership introduced the new burn up charts and put a focus on velocity.

Looking at the average number of stories completed per iteration, the numbers were telling. With an average velocity of 20 at 1.4 points per story, they were completing around 14 stories per iteration. With an average velocity of 40 at 3.1 points per story, they were completing around 13 stories per iteration. Were they in fact moving faster and the stories were coincidentally larger? How could we know for sure?

We took an evenly distributed sampling of stories across the history of the project and printed them out without any sizing information. We then asked the team to size the stories using the same techniques they’d always used. The average story size came out to be approximately 2.8 with earlier stories growing from an average of 1.4 to 2.6.

Had they been gaming the system? No. As we’ve already discussed; we game the system when we change it, the resulting behaviors are just natural consequence. We can’t know for sure if there was, at one time, a deliberate increase in story sizes, but we can say that under the given conditions, the team genuinely believed the larger numbers were more accurate.

Source: Escape Velocity – Better Metrics for Agile Teams, Doc Norton, https://leanpub.com/escapevelocity

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