Death By Metrics: When Scrum Metrics Undermine Agility

Over-Metrics Undermine Agility

Metrics provide critical visibility into the software development process, enabling data-driven decisions about where teams should focus their efforts. However, an over-reliance on metrics can undermine the flexibility and adaptiveness central to agile methodologies.

Why Metrics Matter

Used judiciously, metrics fuel the agile engine:

  • Velocity tracks a team’s rate of story point completion over sprints, facilitating predictable delivery.
  • Cycle time measures the duration from story initiation to completion, spotlighting impediments.
  • Lead time clocks total feature time-to-market, driving process optimizations.

Without metrics, teams fly blind, unable to calibrate capacity or evaluate process efficiency. However, used improperly, metrics morph from feedback tools into cudgels that undermine morale, creativity, and productivity.

When Metrics Go Wrong

In environments fixated on metrics as indicators of success, teams often suffer detrimental effects:

  • Velocity is used as a goal rather than measurement tool, pressuring teams to inflate estimates or overwork.
  • Cycle time improvements become the objective rather than byproducts of other initiatives.
  • Sprint durations shrink to minimize lead times independent of impact on quality or sustainability.

Rather than facilitating progress, metrics become weapons yielding dysfunction. Developers chase scores rather than solutions. The tool for evaluating methods displaces the methods themselves.

Metrics That Undermine Agility

Velocity as a Measure of Team Capability

While velocity measures a team’s rate of completion, some misinterpret it as quantifying a team’s competence. However, velocity depends greatly on story size and effort estimation methods. Using velocity to evaluate teams or determine resourcing leads to games like story splitting, padding, or aggressive velocity commitments unrelated to sustainable output. Such dysfunction crushes morale and impairs true progress.

Using Story Points as Productivity Units

While story points estimate effort, not time, some organizations use them as productivity scoring. However, story point generation depends largely on work assigned rather than team capability or commitment. Such misuse incentivizes chasing easy point-yielding stories rather than business-driving efforts. It also penalizes specialization due to perceived lower output by specialists tackling tougher work.

Obsessing Over Defect Counts

While crucial for quality evaluation, defect rates often get weaponized as scorecards grading developer capability. Such approaches disincentivize transparent reporting about bugs discovered or fixed. They also overlook root cause analysis on process, tools, or requirements. Obsession over defect counts shifts focus from shipping excellence to hiding imperfections.

Regaining Perspective on Metrics

As metrics quantify key aspects of development, they remain indispensable for agile implementations. However, restoring metrics as servants rather than drivers of progress requires revisiting their underlying purpose and appropriate usage:

  • Metrics serve agility rather than undermine it. Focus must shift from metric outputs to the outcomes they should inform.
  • Metrics complement human discussion and cognition rather than replacing them. Maximum insight arises from considering both metrics and experiential judgment.
  • Roll-up dashboard metrics should inform high-level decisions rather than micro-management. Detailed metrics provide precision but imperil ownership and intrinsic motivation essential for truly agile teams.

Focusing on What Matters

Reclaiming metrics for service over subversion requires elevating the primacy of product and customer:

  • Value delivery over metrics – Teams must structure around value rather than velocity, optimizing around customer benefit rather than internal measures.
  • Working software over reporting – The ultimate metric is deployable code yielding stakeholder capability. Other gauges support this goal but cannot replace it.
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation – Direct user feedback outpaces any proxy metric, centering teams on fulfilling actual needs rather than mandated metrics.


Metrics prove indispensable for monitoring development processes and progress. However, allowing metrics to drive development introduces dysfunction where measurement displaces the actual goals. By recentering metrics as insight providers supporting software, value, and customer prioritization, teams regain balance where metrics inform rather than dominate decision making. With proper perspective, metrics can enable rather than hinder agile pursuits.

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