Project Management

The perils of myopic metrics and insular improvements

From the Easy in theory, difficult in practice Blog
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Categories: Agile, Project Management

This Dilbert cartoon from December 23, 2019 illustrates a couple of anti-patterns which I've sometimes witnessed in companies who are going through an agile transformation.

While it is often true that 80% today is better than 100% tomorrow when we consider benefits such as being first to market, an increased return on investment or accelerating validated learning, that rule of thumb refers to the depth and breadth of product features and not to basic needs.

Successful agility implies improving across three dimensions - speed to value realization, product quality and stakeholder satisfaction. Shipping a product prematurely may (temporarily) address the first dimension, but not the other two, and any financial benefits achieved by rushing delivery would be negated by increased costs of poor quality. To add insult to injury, forcing professionals to do shoddy work to meet an artificial deadline will most likely demotivate them.

What might have caused this?

Perhaps the Pointy Haired Boss (by the way, I realize that Scott Adams wanted readers to be able to easily compare him to managers within their own companies, but I think naming him is well past due) has an isolated, near term performance objective such as achieving a specific product delivery date rather than looking at customer satisfaction or the volume of customer complaints.

But there might be more at play here.

A second anti-pattern might be localized optimization causing systemic sub-optimization. If the product build team had improved their ability to deliver without the user documentation team having been brought along for the ride, the overall product enhancement value stream won't have been improved.

Product enhancement value streams are Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS).

Improving a component of a CAS without understanding the upstream and downstream implications might generate more problems than the benefits achieved. When dealing with a CAS, a holistic, system-level approach is needed to understand and address root causes if the goal is faster delivery.

This extrapolates the mindset of agile beyond the team level to addressing the needs of an overall CAS. Just as we wouldn't want individual team members making improvement decisions which benefit them but hurt the team as a whole, we wouldn't want individual teams optimizing their work processes at the detriment of other players in the CAS.

This is why the seventh principle of Disciplined Agile is so important - Enterprise Awareness is a critical ingredient for successfully scaling agile.


Posted on: December 29, 2019 06:59 AM | Permalink

Comments (7)

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Dear Kiron
Interesting reflection on the topic of metrics
Thanks for sharing

Note that it has already been "conquered" by the DA approach :-)

Quite a sentence here - A second anti-pattern might be localized optimization causing systemic sub-optimization

Where I thought you were going with this is the fact that any documentation should not be an afterthought. This is an often mistake and should be a part of the delivered increment.


Thanks Luis - DA provides some good ideas, but these challenges are people-oriented so unless behaviors and mindset change, no toolkit will fix things.

Thanks Andrew & Happy New Year to you too! What I was getting at was if the product development team changes their delivery process (e.g. traditional to agile) but the documentation team hasn't been informed of this or encouraged to do likewise, the outcome will be worse than if things had been left "as is".



This is a great piece - Very informative. I learned quote a few new vocabulary too.

I totally agree with you, teams should think outside the box and look at the big picture.


Thanks Rami - no day is wasted when we can expand our vocabularies :-) !

Agility and time to market cannot come at the expense of value. Shoddy work is certainly demotivating! Nice share Kiron.

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