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Improving Productivity without Formal Metrics

by Mark Levison on Mar 17, 2008 |

Ron Jeffries has started writing a series of fictional stories based on his observation of real teams. The first story (Kate Oneal: Productivity) focuses on the character Kate O'Neal (CTO) and one of her teams "Rimshot". In this episode Ron explores achieving and measuring Productivity improvements without formal metrics.

Ron is best known for being the on-site XP coach on the first XP project in 1996, in addition he has two books: Extreme Programming Adventures in C# and Extreme Programming Installed.

Kate asks all of her teams: "I'd like the teams to work on continuously improving productivity. Each team, please put together a team plan for how you'll do that, and how to communicate it briefly, in writing, so that we can roll up and learn from your reports and package them for the executive team. Get together with me if you need to, and I'd like your plans by the first of the month, please." On Rimshot reactions range from constructive engagement to hostility and assuming that management is trying to foist metrics on the team.

Rather than tell the team exactly what to do Kate asks the team questions about what they do and what benefits improving productivity might have. Through the discussion the team realize that they're spending a lot of time dealing with integration problems and that if this is fixed they could spend the time improving the quality of the code. In the end the team agrees to focus on solving the integration issues. To measure their success they will track time spent solving integration problems.

Finally with a reference to Punished by Rewards (by Alfie Kohn) Ron shows that metrics are all too easily gamed.

In the Test Driven Development Newsgroup George Dinwiddie raises the concern that this might lead to local optimizations, perhaps at the expense of global optimization. To avoid this he recommends that goals be set on a divisional (instead of team) level.

Read more about metrics at InfoQ.

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