How to measure Agile maturity on your project

28 Apr

What is “Agile”?

The concept of “Agile” was popularised in 2001 with the publication of the Agile Manifesto (http://agilemanifesto.org/). The manifesto set out a number of principles which – when successfully applied – would improve the process of software development.

Over time these Agile principles – valuing individuals and interactions over processes, responding to change, collaboration etc – were applied to projects in various industries. “Agile” made the transition from IT to general management practice in a similar manner to lean/six sigma’s evolution from its manufacturing origins.

With its increasing popularity – Project Managers were widely encouraged to implement Agile principles in order to successfully deliver projects (http://pmdoi.org/).

Why measure Agile maturity?

1) Let’s imagine the following scenario:

You’ve heard that Agile is popular with other PMs – but you’re not sure about it. You decide to try Agile on your project. You invest £10,000 on staff training and purchasing Agile artefacts (an online dashboard, Sprint boards etc). One year later – you want to find out whether your investment was worthwhile. You measure the team’s current delivery (time/cost/quality metrics) and compare this against an earlier benchmark. You notice very little improvement.

As a PM – do you attribute this to the team’s failure to implement Agile principles (i.e. due to a low level of adoption)? Or was Agile the incorrect methodology for this team (i.e. due to the nature of the product would a more structured approach have had greater efficacy)?

Without a measure of Agile maturity – how can you answer these questions?

2) In another scenario:

You’re a PM who is completely sold on “Agile”. You believe in it passionately – the more Agile a team is the better. You have a total of 7 teams across the business using Agile.

How can you identify the Agile improvement areas for each of the 7 teams? How can you provide feedback on their Agile performance?

3) Last scenario:

You dislike Agile intensely. It’s a methodology that has being extended to fit every size/structure of team. You use Waterfall – and want to convey that this approach works for your team.

Imagine that you could measure your team’s success using the standard metrics – and also show that this success has been possible without being “Agile”. Perhaps then there would be less pressure from management to adopt Agile principles.

Broadly speaking therefore – the pragmatist (scenario 1), Agile evangelist (scenario 2) and Agile sceptic (scenario 3) would each benefit from the ability to quantify Agile adoption. So what types of Agile assessments are available?

How to measure Agile maturity?

There are 4 widely available, self-administrable, free assessments that can provide teams with a detailed breakdown of performance across key Agile areas:

1) Mike Cohn & Kenny Rubin (http://comparativeagility.com/): This assessment measures a team’s performance across 7 dimensions: teamwork, requirements, planning, technical practices, quality, culture and knowledge creation. With approximately 100 questions – this is one of the most detailed assessments available online.

2) Thoughtworks (http://www.agileassessments.com/online-assessments/agile-self-evaluation): Consisting of 20 questions – and providing a detailed summary report – this assessment was developed by a leading consultancy. The assessment is best administered as a group exercise- as this encourages dialogue and leads to a more balanced viewpoint.

3) The Nokia Test (http://jeffsutherland.com/nokiatest.pdf): This is one of the oldest assessments available – and was produced by Jeff Sutherland (a key figure in the Agile community). The Nokia Test focuses on the iterative nature of Agile and the adoption of the Scrum framework.

4) Agile Karlskrona test (http://www.piratson.se/archive/Agile_Karlskrona_Test.html or http://www.mayberg.se/archive/Agile_Karlskrona_Test.pdf): an incredibly simple self-assessment that provides a team with a basic snapshot of their performance.

Limitations

The 4 assessments mentioned above provide valuable feedback: improvement areas are flagged and successes are recognised. They also encourage dialogue throughout the team in terms of best practices.

It is worth adding however that “Agile” is based on a descriptive manifesto (e.g. you should value customer collaboration) – rather than a prescriptive manifesto (e.g. you should produce a customer collaboration tracker which should be reviewed biweekly with the PMO team). The origins of Agile (in terms of a descriptive manifesto), and the lack of a definitive maturity model, mean that although measuring Agile maturity is worthwhile – it is an imprecise science.

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