Tracking velocity

It’s very common for organizations to track the velocity of the Agile teams over time. This is quite a reasonable datapoint to plot. Combined with other data, it might give you some insights when you look back, and insights based on data are typically more useful than insights based on opinion. Remember, though, to keep in mind what the data is, and what it is not.

In the case of velocity, it’s not an analog for productivity. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking so. “28 story points is the amount of work we can accomplish in a sprint.” Except 28 points is not an amount of work; it’s an estimate. Even if you count stories rather than estimating them—”17 stories is the amount of work we can accomplish in a sprint”—it’s still an estimate. We can easily manipulate either one by estimating with more story points or slicing the work into smaller stories. It’s so easy, we can do so without noticing or intention to do so.

Goodhart’s Law: Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes.

In other words, while velocity may roughly track productivity, it will cease to do so as soon as we use it for that while trying to increase productivity.

This misuse of velocity to represent productivity is well-known, but I frequently still hear or read statements that conflate the two. Pick something actually valuable to you if you want to measure productivity.

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