Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Metrics Matter – Real-time 360 Degree Visibility Improves Project Outcomes

Posted on behalf of Doug Akers,
Director, Product Management, MKS Inc.

It has been some time since we last took a deep look at metrics and how to measure the various aspects of development. At the time when I wrote "Metrics Matter" the market was very much centered around IT organizations and doing more with less and so the types of numbers being prescribed aligned with cost savings and maximizing productivity as would be expected. We grouped the metrics that were of most interest to CIO's into five categories – team efficiency (productivity), process efficiency (predictability), project efficiency (cost/schedule), value and effectiveness (alignment) and quality (uh quality) and today, for the most part, these categories still hold true (although we call them by new names).

Since then though a number of things happened to the market that cause us to take a different approach to what we focus on, the value of or at least the priority of metrics and measurements that inform our decision making processes.

First of all, software has busted out of IT in a huge way. In the last 5 years the amount of software in complex products like automobiles, airplanes, operating theaters and mobile phones for example has grown exponentially. What's more in these highly competitive industries software is THE differentiator and THE source of greatest innovation for the manufacturers. The numbers informing IT are vastly different than the numbers driving product organizations. Don't get me wrong, cost and productivity are important to these companies, but quality and cycle time – whether its defect fix cycle, change review cycle or product release cycle – are critical in these highly competitive markets. The value of reuse statistics, change propagation metrics, test coverage and risk mitigation numbers is what gets organizations ahead of the curve (or the auditor as the case may be).

Second there's the ground swell of Agile and other development methodologies intermixing with more traditional ways and means of delivering applications. Velocity, rework percentage, or running tested features are all examples of the types of project or business level metrics that are born out of the Agile era that most organizations hadn’t even heard of 5 years ago.

Third, the cost of failure has grown as competition expands, pace increases and innovation comes from unexpected areas. You may argue this one but from my observations of the customers and businesses I've been in touch with – never before has hitting a market window been so critical to the continued success of an organization. Where you were producing one device or product annually, now its 5 – oh and there is 50 variants of each of those across geographies, OEM's, carriers, or some other orthogonal dimension. But you still need to hit the 3 week window before the holidays.

Finally, we've just gotten better at this. We understand more about process, the right process and right amount of process. We know more about what metrics are useful and which are not (hello Kloc, I'm talking to you). And we know that that measurement is essential to continuous improvement – the question is not if we use metrics to inform our business but rather which measures will provide the most value.

There is definitely lots to think about for sure and there are a ton of resources out there (just google "Agile metrics" for example) to inform our thinking. But every once in a while it's a good idea to look back at something like "Metrics Matter" just to ensure that the core principles still hold true. Personally, I am glad they do – simple frameworks are often best and will stand the test of time.

Visit our website to learn more on MKS Integrity or sign up today for our Webinar on "Metrics that Matter to the Engineering Organization"

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