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This post is from the CollabNet VersionOne blog and has not been updated since the original publish date.

Last Updated Jul 09, 2013 — Enterprise Agile Planning expert

Making Release Retrospectives Strategic and Effective: Part 2

Enterprise Agile Planning

In Part 1 of this multi-part blog series, I presented the case for tying release retrospectives with strategic objectives and strategic metric, and outlined a 5-step process for defining strategic objectives to drive agile transition in an enterprise:

  • Step 1: Define strategic objectives and associated strategic metric
  • Step 2: Conduct periodic measurements to collect data to support the strategic metric
  • Step 3: Use release retrospectives to analyze the strategic metric data, and discuss likely causes for the issues revealed by the metric
  • Step 4: Develop appropriate action plan to address the issues revealed by the strategic metric
  • Step 5: Implement the action plan developed in step 4.

In this part, I will elaborate on Step 1.

Step 1: Define, articulate and communicate strategic objectives in an enterprise:  These strategic objectives usually result from the analysis of current state of the enterprise, and its challenges and pain points.   For example, an enterprise may get frequent feedback from its customers that its products do not meet real requirements of the customers: critical features are missing or some features get rarely used.  The enterprise may have realized that it takes too long to meet the market needs; the enterprise cannot respond fast enough to rapid changes in the market place; it costs too much to develop and deliver products; products may have poor quality; productivity of software development and delivery effort is low; work satisfaction and morale of employees is low.

In response to such pain points and challenges, senior management must develop strategic objectives and corresponding strategic metric to measure or quantify those objectives.  This can be done with a set of highly focused and facilitated workshops among executives, senior managers, and key customers or their representatives (product management).  The specific set of strategic objectives and metric chosen by an enterprise will depend on its specific pain points and business objectives in the context of its business environment, market conditions, competitive pressures, etc.

Examples of strategic objectives and corresponding strategic metric are shown in Table 1. 

Table 1: Examples of Strategic Objectives and corresponding Strategic Metric

Strategic Objectives

Strategic Metric

Understand and satisfy the real requirements of customersField data on product feature usage by customers
Improve time to marketConcept to Customer value realization cycle time
Reduce release cost (covering development and delivery)Release cost data in financial terms covering the entire development and delivery release cycle
Improve release productivity for software development and delivery processRelease productivity = Release velocity / Release costRelease velocity can be measured in terms of story points of features accepted by the product owner.The release velocity is divided by the release cost to get a measure of release productivity.
Improve quality of products shippedNumber of customer-reported new issues in a given period of time or release cycle timeNote: Additional measures for quality may be considered, such as “Cycle time to fix customer-reported issues”.
Improve Productivity and Quality concurrently (they should not be traded-off against each other)Productivity-Quality composite measure =
Release Productivity / Number of customer-reported new issues

It is important that strategic metric are outcome-oriented (result-oriented) and not merely output-oriented; these metric are expected to be used and must be useful for business decision making.  For example, if the Product feature usage data reveals that certain features are rarely or almost never used by customers, product management may decide to drop those features from a future release cycle, or simplify/streamline these features.  If the Concept to Customer value realization cycle time is not showing desired improvements, senior management should analyze the end-to-end value chain (from concepts to customer value) to understand the process bottlenecks, reduce Work-in-Process (WIP), reduce buffers, etc.

If the strategic metric focuses only on outputs (and not on outcomes) or does not yield to decision making, the metric may degenerate to a “bean counting” exercise, i.e., busy work with little value.

Defining, articulating and communicating strategic objectives and metric at the enterprise level is an important responsibility of senior management (such as VP Product Management, VP Engineering, CIO or CTO); this responsibility should not be relegated to individual ScrumMasters or Project/Program managers or department managers.

An enterprise may choose only a subset of these or similar objectives and metric (as shown in Table 1), because determining the metric and collecting the necessary data to support the metric often is an expensive proposition.  The benefits of this effort must (substantially) exceed the cost to warrant it.  I recommend to start with only 1 to 3 strategic objectives to stay focused.  With some experience, an enterprise may expand up to 5 strategic objectives over a period of 2 to 3 years.

Once the strategic objectives to drive the agile transition along with the associated agile metric (as exemplified in Table 1) are defined, executives and senior managers must articulate and communicate the strategic objectives and metric to enterprise employees by addressing questions, such as:

  • Why do we need strategic objectives and metric?
  • What problems will be addressed using these objectives and metric?
  • How will we collect data for measurements required by the strategic metric?
  • What decisions will be enabled by the metric, and
  • How to implement this whole system?

Without clear communication of the strategic objectives and associated metric, the benefits of the agile initiatives will be difficult to achieve.

In Part 3 of this multi-part blog series, I will present the details of Step 2: Conduct periodic measurements to gather data and measure strategic metric.

Part 1: Overview of release retrospective
Part 3: Conduct periodic measurements to collect data to support the strategic metric
Part 4: Use release retrospectives to analyze the strategic metric data, and discuss likely causes for the issues revealed by the metric
Part 5: Developing and implementing the action plan

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