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Measuring Productivity = Continuous Improvement?


How do you measure the productivity of a team? Some answers that leap immediately to mind are:

  1. Story Points

  2. Throughput

  3. Function Points

  4. Features

And I’m sure there are dozens more. But as I consider this, perhaps I should re-examine just what the word “Productivity” actually means. According to Merriam-Webster the definition is:

1: having the quality or power of producing especially in abundance 

2: effective in bringing about 

3 a: yielding results, benefits, or profits b: yielding or devoted to the satisfaction of wants or the creation of utilities

4: continuing to be used in the formation of new words or constructions 

5: raising mucus or sputum (as from the bronchi) <a productive cough>

OK, we’ve all probably worked on a few projects that fit definition #5 of productivity. Cough. Ahem. There are a few words in those definitions that catch my eye: abundance, effective, yielding results, benefits, or profits. I’m still no closer to measuring productivity. Hmmm…

Donald Gray has a great blog on applying measures to a teams work. He points out the usual criticism of most measures – namely that you get what you measure (for better or worse – usually worse). However, that really doesn’t help us at all. We’re still stuck without a decent measure for productivity.

You know, the more I think about it, the more I wonder, “Who’s asking for a productivity metric?”

I can think of two basic cases:

  1. Some sort of external stakeholder (a manager, a director, a product owner, a CEO, a customer, etc…)

  2.  The team

If the answer is #1, some external stakeholder, then the odds are good that for some reason they don’t see the team as productive already. If they thought the team was productive to some sort of acceptable standard, they wouldn’t bother asking in the first place. It could be caused by a variety of things (poor visibility into the team, not understanding how the team measures its progress, or plain good old fashioned cluelessness). Or maybe they are trying to help the team. Pardon me for a moment, a monkey just flew out of my butt…

If the answer is #2, then that’s a team I want to work with! The way I see it, this is the way it should be. It’s the team’s job to be constantly examining their own productivity. They should be fascinated by it. Positively mesmerized. How can we improve our work? Measuring productivity in what ever form it might take is the heart and soul of continuous Improvement. It’s the team’s job, not the customers. That feels right. See? No monkeys!

Personally, I like Ron Jeffries example. Productivity is the team’s challenge and the customer’s right. Let the team find the measure and then they should hold themselve to it. Make it visible. I’m a lot happier with the notion that the team controls the measures of productivity rather than some external stakeholder. Is that wrong? Still no monkeys…*

*I apologize for the monkey references. Pinochio had his nose, I have butt monkeys. 

#ContinuousImprovement #Metrics

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