We hope that by conducting effective ceremonies we will achieve the agile trinity of improved value delivery, better quality and more fun.
But these objectives might be reached via multiple paths so we might not be able to prove causality between our ceremonies and those objectives.
We could ask our team members to tell us whether they see the value in the ceremonies and their perceptions are certainly important but is that enough? Can we identify measures which we could directly attribute to specific ceremonies so that we know if they are generating sufficient value?
Each agile framework provides its own ceremonies but given that Scrum is still the most commonly referenced one, let's focus on that framework's events.
The Scrum Guide calls sprints the heart of Scrum as these time boxes set the cadence for all other events. But to know if the Scrum heart is healthy we could track achievement of goals and value delivered sprint-over-sprint.
Sprint planning should answer the "what" and "how" of delivery for an upcoming sprint. Measuring its duration, quantifying the variation between what was expected to be delivered and what was actually delivered, and confirming whether the team is working at a sustainable pace might help assess the ceremony's effectiveness.
The daily scrum helps the team align themselves towards the accomplishment of sprint goals and to collaborate better. It should also reduce bad surprises and the need for traditional status meetings. To see if it is adding value, we could check how many work items are completed and measure how many unanticipated impediments are encountered each day.
The sprint review provides an opportunity to inspect what was accomplished and adapt the backlog accordingly. We can measure how many new requirements and course corrections emerged from the discussions. We could also conduct regular surveys with key participating stakeholders to gauge their satisfaction with the product and with the team.
Finally we come to the sprint retrospective. To gauge whether this ceremony is more than just a frequent "lessons learned" session, we could track the ratio of improvement ideas generated compared with how many were actually executed and provided expected benefits.
Agile ceremonies should add value. If not, we are just adopting the form of agility with none of its substance.