Human Behavior and Metrics Drive an Agile Business | Jobs In MD

Human Behavior and Metrics Drive an Agile Business

By: Mike Sherwood

Agile Methodology has exploded in popularity in recent years. This explosion has gone beyond technology. Base36 has recently consulted a group of healthcare administrators on how they can use Agile principles within their work.

What Does It Mean to Be Agile?

From a business owner's perspective, Agile has been empirically proven to focus a team on the core business, while allowing management to quickly change the direction of the team and pulse the progress of the team.

There's no cookbook to "Agile." In fact, several different iterative management strategies including Scrum, eXtreme Programming, the Unified Process and Evo have evolved into what we put under the umbrella of "Agile" today. An individual group or project will use the nuggets of Agile that work for them, casting other practices within Agile aside.

Why Does Agile Work?

At a high level, two major focuses of Agile have brought it to great success:

  1. Human behavior: Agile methodology focuses on human strengths. In recent years, books on behavioral economics have topped the best seller list, including Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. Agile brings many of these insights into day-to-day project management.
  2. Metrics: Metrics at the project level are often inflated, flawed, and downright false. Agile metrics tend to be more accurate. These two themes radiate throughout the Agile methodology - let's take a look at a single example of each.

Human Behavior: It's All Relative

It has been proven that humans are bad at estimating actual value, but we tend to be very strong at estimating relative value. For example, if I ask you how much a particular sailboat costs, your guess will likely be wholly inaccurate. On the other hand, if I ask you to look at two sailboats you will very likely be able to tell me which one costs more.

Mike Cohn discusses leveraging this human trait in Agile Estimating and Planning. Using a points-based system over a set of separate tasks, each task is assigned a number of points. The points have no meaning, except that each assignment is relative to one another, i.e. a five-point task is expected to take half as long as a 10-point task.

Metrics: Plan Your Projects Better

After two or three iterations, you will be able to identify a useful metric called project velocity. Your team may accomplish an average of 92 points per iteration. Using this knowledge, a project manager can extrapolate to see how long the project is now expected to take, and can also plan appropriately for the next iteration.

These metrics also tend to be more accurate because each piece of work is small - it is either complete or it is incomplete. By avoiding completion estimates, (I swear boss, I'm 95 percent done!) we gain real, usable metrics that can be effectively used for future planning.

There are so many more examples of these two core focuses bringing companies success through Agile. For more information about the Agile Methodology, consider reading the Agile Manifesto.

Mike Sherwood is the Managing Director and Founder of Base36. As a Bowdoin College computer science alum, Mike has led Base36 to be the leading technical consulting company in the state of Maine. Their internal office staff is deeply technical and highly trusted, with many clients hiring wholly based upon their screening feedback.