Software development teams the world over are under significant pressure to maximise productivity, quality and impact. These priorities are difficult to balance and measuring key parts of the development process should not be overlooked if projects are to meet their goals. Jeff Keyes, VP of Product Marketing and Strategy at Plutora, explains how flow metrics offer a proven process for measuring and maximising success.
Now a core part of the business value stream for organisations globally, software development plays a pivotal role in fuelling the digital economy. From initial idea to rollout and every part of the process in between, delivering customer value via high-quality software has a huge knock-on effect on overall success.
The development process, however, can be complex and subject to a wide range of inefficiencies and bottlenecks. Understanding workflow metrics is key to providing teams with the data and analytics they need to improve project management capabilities. Giving teams this granular level of insight can be achieved by focusing on the implementation of flow metrics across the software development lifecycle.
But what are flow metrics? These are a set of processes that focus on how value delivery aligns with desired business outcomes, enabling organisations to improve decision-making at each stage of the development process. By bringing technology and business teams closer together, flow metrics can help them focus on the issues that are having a negative impact on development.
This can reveal a range of challenges, from why a project might be experiencing delays, and the role played by technical debt, to resourcing and prioritisation, any of which can severely limit the ability of teams to deliver on their objectives.
In practical terms, flow metrics measure specific work units that clients or product teams share with their business and software development colleagues. This might include anything from a request for new software, a bug fix or an urgent security vulnerability, among a myriad of others.
A deeper dive into flow metrics
The overall process includes a set of six core components:
1. Lead Time
Firstly, lead time is the view of the elapsed time from when a customer requests a capability to its final release. While the deployment installs code onto a production environment, the release must still be tracked because this is when it is actually available to end users. It has been known as “concept to cash” in the past, but today it is better known as “customer commitment to outcome”.
2. Cycle Time
Cycle time measures how long it takes for flow items to move from start to completion. By also looking at active and wait times, it’s much easier to assess the speed at which a team delivers value. Cycle time also plays an important role in building growth and revenue because it makes it easier to develop project estimates and allocate resources that deliver more focused workflows and greater efficiency.
Throughput is a measurement of the total number of flow items completed over a set amount of time. This metric helps teams understand the total amount of value delivered during a particular project. The key benefit of measuring and then maximising throughput is that it helps optimise the regularity of software improvements and updates, boosting the end-user experience and helping the software provider to drive revenue.
Throughput is usually assessed on a weekly timetable, but when teams also look over the longer term, they can understand how the various priorities that form part of the software development process can determine overall value.
4. Flow Efficiency
Flow efficiency enables development teams to understand the ratio of active time against wait time. This is an important consideration given the impact waiting has on performance and production costs. Measuring flow efficiency not only helps identify where bottlenecks in the process are impacting performance, but it also shows whether process waste is increasing or decreasing. It can also help teams identify when workflows are taking too long and provide a starting point for them to improve specific processes.
5. Work in Progress
Work in progress focuses on measuring demand, based on the number of flow items that are inactive development or waiting within a value stream. Understanding work in progress enables team leaders to see how employee time is being utilised, such as the load being placed on each individual alongside their potential output. This helps managers to precisely allocate team resources to meet their strategic priorities or to make short term changes when necessary.
Measuring work in progress can help leaders determine if value streams are over or underutilised, and for employees, reduce the risk of burnout.
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6. Work Profile
Finally, work profile measures the ratio of the four other flow items completed over time and, as a result, informs teams as they plan future priorities. This is an important analysis because it helps ensure that both quality and productivity remain at optimal levels, which in turn helps boost the customer experience while maximising retention.
Businesses using flow metrics can put themselves in a very strong position to maximise their competitive advantage. By understanding the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities inherent in their existing software development processes, they can focus on the areas that will improve efficiency and impact, and in today’s competitive environment, that’s a compelling argument.