Velocity can be a useful metric for measuring a Scrum Team’s performance. The concept of velocity is based on tracking the amount of work completed by a team during each Sprint.
Merits of velocity
A team can gain a good understanding of their capacity and the amount of work they can handle in a given period of time by tracking the amount of work completed in each Sprint. This data can then be used to help them plan their work for future Sprints, ensuring that they do not overcommit or undercommit to their Sprint Goal. Knowing a team’s velocity can help them make better decisions about how much work they can realistically commit to in a given Sprint. This can help to avoid overburdening the team and decreasing overall efficiency.
Velocity is a dynamic metric that can change over time as a team gains experience and their processes become more efficient. Tracking velocity over time can assist a team in identifying areas for improvement and making changes that will improve overall efficiency. Tracking velocity can also aid in improving communication among team members, the Product Owner, and stakeholders. The velocity metric can help to promote transparency and accountability by providing a common language for discussing the team’s progress.
A double-edged sword
Sound useful, right? However, velocity can be a double-edged sword in that it can have negative consequences if not used properly. Some of the risks of using velocity as a metric include teams:
- becoming overly focused on achieving a high velocity, resulting in a competitive environment and unhealthy pressure to perform;
- compromising on quality in order to increase velocity, resulting in lower quality products;
- exaggerating their velocity in order to look better, resulting in incorrect assessments of their performance;
- becoming too focused on achieving a high velocity, leading to a lack of focus on process improvement and reducing the overall effectiveness of the Scrum process;
- being given more work than they can realistically handle based on their velocity, leading to burnout and reduced productivity.
It is critical for teams to use velocity as a tool for understanding their capacity and planning their work, but they must also be aware of potential risks and avoid becoming overly focused on achieving a high velocity. Teams should strive to balance their emphasis on velocity with continuous process improvement and the delivery of high-quality products.
I recently spoke with a Product Owner who told me about a company where individual team members were evaluated not only on team velocity, but also on their ‘individual’ velocity. And by judged, he meant the possibility of contract termination in case of ‘underperformance’. My initial reaction was one of recoil. This sounded like a perversion of velocity – and Taylorism at its finest, where you break work down into smaller tasks and measure each worker’s output to improve performance. Individual velocity is a modern application of Taylorist principles in that it measures the amount of work completed by a single team member during a Sprint.
Measuring individual velocity (and then allocating quotas based on it) can lead to a number of risks and dangers:
- Many factors outside of an individual’s control, such as team size, work complexity, and work distribution among team members, can influence individual velocity. Assigning quotas based on individual velocity may result in an unfair assessment of an individual’s performance;
- Team members may become competitive with one another, resulting in decreased collaboration and increased conflict;
- It can shift the focus away from the team and onto individual performance, resulting in a lack of focus on the team’s goals and objectives;
- It can create a sense of pressure and can lead to decreased motivation and engagement among team members;
- Individuals may be assigned work that exceeds their capacity based on their individual velocity, resulting in insufficient support and decreased productivity.
The entire Scrum Team is collectively responsible for the Increment after a Sprint. The team is empowered to make decisions and solve problems collaboratively, and this extends to the sprint’s final outcome. At the end of each Sprint, the Scrum Team collaborates to deliver a potentially releasable increment. This shared responsibility fosters a sense of ownership and accountability among all team members, and it aids in ensuring that everyone is working toward the same goal. Furthermore, it recognizes that the Sprint’s success is not solely dependent on the efforts of one person or one role, but rather on the collective efforts of the entire team.
No sole metric for productivity
There are several compelling arguments for not focusing solely on velocity as a productivity metric.
Velocity is a measure of how much work is completed in a given amount of time, but it does not account for the complexity of the work, the quality of the work, or the overall progress made toward the team’s goals. When teams are solely focused on achieving high velocity, they may prioritize task completion over task completion well. This can lead to lower-quality work and a decreased emphasis on providing customers with valuable, high-quality products.
Furthermore, teams that are solely focused on velocity may feel less inclined to take risks, experiment, and pursue new ideas. This can stifle creativity and innovation, lowering the overall potential for growth and improvement.
Therefore, it’s critical to adopt a more holistic view of productivity that considers metrics other than velocity, such as work quality, customer satisfaction, and overall progress toward goals. Management can get a more accurate picture of team and individual productivity by combining metrics, which can help to support continuous improvement and drive success.
It is critical to understand that velocity should not be the sole focus of a Scrum Team, and that relying solely on velocity as a metric can have serious consequences.
The goal of Scrum is to provide customers with valuable, high-quality products through collaboration, continuous improvement, and transparency. Concentrating solely on velocity can detract from this goal and result in negative results.
I recommended that teams use velocity as a tool for understanding their capacity and planning their work, but that they also be aware of potential risks and avoid becoming overly focused on achieving a high velocity. Teams should strive to balance their emphasis on velocity with an emphasis on continuous process improvement, delivering high-quality products, and fostering a positive team culture.