Agile Charts (Part 1)

I have a confession to make.

I love charts. Always have. Flowcharts, Sales charts, Heat maps, Network diagrams, Infographics, even the eye testing chart at the optometrists.

There. It feels good to have that out the open actually, although in fact I suspect that you love charts to. It’s not cool, but I think everybody does.

A good chart gives us the data we need, represented in a way that brings clarity and context. They help us understand a difficult concept, or spot trends that may encourage us, or lead us to intervene in a process or a situation.

Agile charts help us to understand the metrics that we consider important, so that we can drive improvement. One of my favourite agile blogs is that of Mike Griffiths. His work on agile metrics has really struck a chord with me.

It is vital that we get our metrics right, and measure that which we actually care about improving. Long standing evidence shows that the very act of measuring something will drive its improvement, even without a change in personnel or process.

Excuse me while I get a little bit academic. I promise it won’t last long.

I believe that managers need to remember two main things in seeking productivity or performance improvement.

Hawthorne and Demming

The Hawthorne Effect (with great thanks to Mike Griffiths), is the idea that when people are made aware that they are part of a drive or experiment aimed at improving a particular facet of their performance, that facet will improve. It just will. If you set out to measure some aspect of performance, it’ll get better.

Tinkering with environmental variables may appear to contribute to the improvement, but what it really boils down to, is that if a person knows an outcome is being measured, they’ll instinctively find ways to better the result. Telling someone that they’re part of a trial (say) on how to improve measured production line speed, changes their environmental atmosphere, in a way that makes them perform better, without even knowing it! The lesson is that we must measure the right things.

The famed J. Edwards Deming asserted that a vigourous and continued effort in applying, understanding and improving practical processes, will improve performance and productivity more certainly than any other means.

You can focus on talent or incentives etc., but Deming believed that no other lever was more powerful in driving productivity than a focus on improving processes. Plan-Do-Check-Act-Repeat.

OK, that bit’s over.

The crux of my point, is that attempts to improve at work should start with an inspection of process, and the implementation of the right checks and measures. Charts help us to put these things into context visually, so that sense can be made of the data.

Part 2 of this post will focus on Agile measures, and the charts we can use to monitor and improve them.


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