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Measuring productivity

You get what you measure

So true, so true. These famous words from Mary Poppendieck point at an important objective of anyone interested in their work.

But there is a risk to these words. Because you can be lead to believe that you can measure everything you want.

I want my son to love me. So, following Mary’s words I should probably measure his love. This should ensure me success in getting his love.

Sounds goofy? Well, to most sane people this sounds crazy. I cannot take out a chart and plot my son’s love for me.

But how about productivity? In the agile community I’ve read a couple of discussions about if you can use velocity to measure productivity. I don’t like this idea much. I use velocity for predictions and my priority. Story point estimates are in my world a relative value of size, and if I start measuring how many dots they complete every month, they are not sure to start making their estimates bigger. I still don’t measure productivity but I’ve also lost my chance of predicting my upcoming deliveries.

So, how do I measure productivity of the developers on my team? Well, I measure it by how happy my users and stakeholders Do they feel that the investment was worth it. But, but, you might say: that is too vague! And I say that just this is what matters. If the customer is happy about the investment. Can they make the money they hade anticipated or save the cost they were counting on.

And frankly, I have a hard time finding a good measurement of productivity. I can just look back at my role; project manager. What is a productive project manager? Is it the one who makes the most Gantt chart bars? Or holds the longest steering groups? How does a project manager know if he’s been productive a day? For me it’s a feeling. Some days I can have had this ten minutes meeting which clarified a lot of stuff which will save us a lot of coding time or make us reach our goals. But a numeric calculation, I don’t know.

It was perhaps easier when I was a test leader. And yet not. A productive tester does not find a lot of bugs, he prevents them from occurring in the first place. And how do you measure that? Yes, you can measure the decline in bugs, but how do you know if a specific tester was the reason.

So, to summarize; I wouldn’t feel productive as a project manager if I was asked to measure the productivity of team members.

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