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How to Use Flow Metrics to Optimize Product Delivery

October 30, 2023
Mastering Product Delivery Optimization with Flow Metrics
Timeliness & Customer Satisfaction are Key Product Measures

Mastering Product Delivery Optimization with Flow Metrics 

Because timeliness and customer satisfaction can make or break a product, strategically using Flow Metrics in your Kanban system is a game-changer for product delivery. 

This exploration begins by understanding the critical role that Flow Metrics play in this optimization journey. If you want to know more about the pivotal role that flow metrics play in optimizing product delivery, you’re in the right place. This includes recognizing their importance and comprehending their seamless integration into your delivery workflow.

Moreover, we'll delve into the specific Flow Metrics that warrant your attention – those metrics directly bearing on your delivery process's efficiency and effectiveness. We’ll also unravel the intricate interplay between Flow Metrics and other vital performance indicators, illustrating how these metrics work together to create a holistic understanding of your delivery ecosystem.

Let’s walk through the significance of these metrics, their seamless integration into your delivery process, the essential metrics you must embrace, and how they intertwine with other key performance indicators.

What Are Flow Metrics?

Flow Metrics are quantitative measures that offer a panoramic view of work progressing through your delivery process. 

Flow Metrics provide insightful data points illuminating a work item's journey from inception to completion. These metrics reveal bottlenecks, efficiencies, and opportunities within your workflow. By embracing Flow Metrics, you're equipped with a holistic understanding of how work progresses, enabling you to make informed decisions and drive optimizations.

Streamlining the Delivery Process with Flow Metrics

Picture a scenario where your team can identify hurdles before they become roadblocks and can swiftly reallocate resources to ensure smooth sailing. Flow Metrics empower you to do just that. 

Work Item Age

Work Item Age is the total time that has elapsed since a work item started.  We need to clearly understand what it means for a work item to have started and what it means for it to be completed.

Cycle Time for Proactive Planning

Cycle Time is the amount of elapsed time it takes for a given work item to complete.  To calculate cycle time we need take the timestamp for when a work item finishes and subtract the timestamp for when that item started.  We will have collected the timestamp data while tracking Work Item Age.  The “Cycle Time” metric by itself is not your crystal ball for making predictions but it is a great starting point.  By recording all of the Cycle Times for individual work items over an iteration, you have data to create a scatterplot.  Now you can trust your data to forecast based on percentiles in your scatterplot.  If you need a high degree of certainty, you may indicate that your work items will be completed in X days or less with a 95% probability.  We cover how to create these scatter plots in the Applying Flow Metrics for Scrum and Professional Scrum with Kanban classes.  Armed with the data, you can set realistic deadlines, allocate resources efficiently, and prevent delays that might disrupt your delivery cadence.

Throughput Metric as a Productivity Gauge

"Throughput" measures your team's historical output by revealing how many work items are completed within a certain period. This metric is purely an output measure.  If your team is using Scrum, knowing your historical Throughput number will help you decide how many product backlog items to consider in the upcoming Sprint.  This metric empowers you to assess efficiency fluctuations, fine-tune resource allocation, and identify trends in performance over time.  Note that you should rely on something other than average throughput, as this average will be wrong on average.  Run a Monte Carlo simulation with your historical throughput data, giving you a probability range.  The output of the Monte Carlo simulation will provide you with the number of product backlog items and a percentage likelihood that your team will be able to complete them in the next sprint.  ActionableAgile has a nice explanation and demo video on how and when to run a Monte Carlo simulation using their tool.

Balancing Work in Progress (WIP)

Flow Metrics, such as "Work in Progress" (WIP), ensure your team isn't overwhelmed by too many work items. This prevents bottlenecks caused by overloading, maintaining a steady flow of work and enhancing overall productivity.  Let your team focus on getting items done.  “Stop Starting and Start Finishing.”  Keep in mind that unfinished knowledge work depreciates in value rapidly, not unlike unsold fruits and vegetables left on the grocer's shelves. 

How Do Flow Metrics Relate to Other Key Performance Indicators in Delivery Processes? 

Flow Metrics don't exist in isolation. They harmonize with other key performance indicators (KPIs) to provide a comprehensive view. Delivery-oriented metrics like "On-Time Delivery" and "Defect Rate" are intertwined with Flow Metrics. 

For instance, analyzing the "Defect Rate" alongside Flow Metrics helps pinpoint bottlenecks leading to quality issues. This integration ensures that your optimization efforts don't compromise other facets of the delivery process.

Other features of process KPIs that work effectively alongside Flow Metrics are: 

Analyzing On-Time Delivery in Conjunction with Flow Metrics


  • Punctuality as a Promise: Pairing "On-Time Delivery" with Flow Metrics like "Cycle Time,” “Service Level Expectation,” and "Throughput" reveals if workflows meet commitments.
  • Identifying Timeliness Bottlenecks: Correlating Flow Metrics with "On-Time Delivery" exposes areas where promises might falter, prompting targeted interventions.

Illuminating Quality through Flow Metrics and Defect Rate


  • Quality and Flow Nexus: Combining Flow Metrics' insights with the "Defect Rate" reveals whether speed compromises quality.
  • Quality Bottlenecks Unveiled: If Flow Metrics show speed but a high "Defect Rate," it signals a need to reinforce quality checks.

Balancing Efficiency and Customer Satisfaction


  • Efficiency vs. Satisfaction: Integrating customer-centric KPIs with Flow Metrics ensures optimization maximizes efficiency and delight concurrently.
  • The harmony between Flow Metrics and KPIs orchestrates a balanced performance tune, creating a masterpiece of efficiency, quality, and customer satisfaction.   An unbalanced approach to system measures will leave blind spots with respect to customer satisfaction.

Flow Metrics Enhance Agility and Efficiency in Your Product Delivery

Flow Metrics are crucial in improving agility and efficiency in product delivery. These metrics provide valuable insights into the details of your workflow and how it aligns with broader performance indicators. By utilizing Flow Metrics, you can optimize your delivery process, identify areas of improvement, address bottlenecks, and capitalize on opportunities for better outcomes.

Instead of just focusing on optimizing the delivery process, the use of Flow Metrics offers a practical way to streamline operations, enhance customer satisfaction, and achieve overall organizational excellence. 

Embracing Flow Metrics empowers you with data-driven tools to fine-tune your product delivery, ensuring smoother operations and better results. So, use Flow Metrics to enhance your delivery process and make meaningful strides toward efficiency and success.

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