The Power of the Dashboard

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Some not so good News

Its around 4pm on a Tuesday, we have completed our Review at the end of the third iteration and we are about to start the Retrospective in what is now going to be a four rather than three-iteration Initial Release.

Since starting the project – using Scrum for the first time – the scope has increased nearly 40%, the time frame has gone from 6 weeks to 8 weeks, the expected investment has increased by a third and two of the four person team have been put onto other assignments. To top it off the team’s performance this iteration has gone from a velocity of 31 points per “standard iteration” to just 10 points.

Reporting news like this to a steering committee or a project owner/sponsor would have many project managers bracing themselves as they stepped over the threshold and into the meeting room.

Inspecting and Adapting in Action

What’s striking about this meeting is there is a calmness to the conversations – there’s no upset, no raised voices, no withholds, no pursed lips or forcefully contained admonishments, no blaming, no looking for reasons, no CYA, no resignation. Just conversations about what happened and what there is to learn from what happened.

This is the Inspect and Adapt part of Agile practices applied to the Agile Practice itself in action and what was informing and shaping the conversations was what was being shown on the dashboard.

Two weeks later a very happy Product Owner takes delivery of the Initial Release, clear that the project delivered on time and within budget. At a company dinner a few weeks later colleagues listen attentively as team members share enthusiastically what it’s like to “really do Scrum”.

The team goes on to sustain this healthy productive collaborative environment through a further 5 iterations for a second release and the product is now in production serving the needs of the stakeholders with a very satisfied Product Owner.


The Power of the Dashboard

This experience really put a spot light on the power of a Dashboard to inform and shape conversations.

Informing and Shaping Conversations About What Happened

Between the first and second iterations the number of story points delivered in an iteration had increased by 50% whereas the effort invested over the iteration had decreased by 33%. One story had been added, two stories has been re-estimated and one story removed.

The dashboard made it easy for us to see the impact of this variability on the project’s budget, timeline and scope.

Something that was immediately obvious is we could see how the investment performance (as measured by the dollar cost per story point) had doubled between the first and second iterations.

Informing and Shaping Conversations for Time, Budget and Scope

However even with the increase in team performance, completing the release in three iterations looked doubtful. When the team raised slipping the schedule from three iterations to four for the same scope we got confronted by the way the dollars per story point increased by a third, and with that the conversations began to focus on how we might minimise the work required to get each story complete and thereby avoid slipping the schedule.

At the same time, everyone was good with increasing the number of iterations to account for a net increase in scope… when the product owner added a net 6 points to the backlog everyone could get why the number of iterations had increased by 1.

Informing and Shaping Conversations for Performance

Looking back its clear that something had shifted for the team… it was like everyone’s attention was now focussed on managing to minimise the dollars per story point. Managing for investment performance was a new context from which to operate and organise our thinking as a team.

And so when the team met at the third iteration review managing for investment performance was available as a context for interpreting the most recent performance. When we entered the numbers all the key performance measures for the iteration were impacted…

  • Dollars per story point tripled
  • Velocity was down by two-thirds
  • Estimation variance also dipped

Informing and Shaping Conversations for Performance Improvement

As a team we could readily see the impact of committing to 3 stories, gong after 4 and delivering 2 on the performance measures. Which lead to the next question… What has been the impact on the overall project timeline and the budget and is this drop in the performance measures indicative of things to come?

The team put the drop in performance down to not paying enough attention to the conditions of satisfaction that the product owner had put into the stories… something that could be readily addressed in the retrospective as a lesson learned.

A Retrospective Free from Distractions

So when it came time for the third Retrospective the team got to engage in looking at what worked and what didn’t free from distractions about what had happened and what it meant for the project. And one iteration later…

…a very happy Product Owner takes delivery of the Initial Release, clear that the project delivered on time and within budget. At a company dinner a few weeks later colleagues listen attentively as team members share enthusiastically what it’s like to “really do Scrum”.

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