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The Illusion of #Velocity 📉

September 21, 2023

TL; DR: Why Velocity Is a Useless Metric from a Management Perspective

Typically, the obsession with velocity doesn’t originate from the team itself. It trickles down from management.

Equipped with spreadsheets and performance dashboards, leaders often turn to easily quantifiable metrics like velocity to gauge progress. But what if this managerial focus on velocity is a fata morgana obscuring the path to true agility and value?

The Illusion of #Velocity — A Management Metric With Unintended Consequences!

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Why Management Loves Velocity

Velocity is alluring to managers because it offers something tangible. It promises a straightforward, quantifiable measure of a team’s capability.

Executives love predicting exactly when a team can accomplish a project or how much a team can deliver in a given period. But this very attractiveness becomes a pitfall.

The Unintended Side-Effects of a Top-Down Velocity Obsession

When management imposes velocity as a critical performance indicator by management, several detrimental effects can occur:

  1. Gaming the System: Knowing that they’re being judged on speed, teams might artificially inflate story points or tackle easier tasks to give the appearance of high velocity.
  2. Short-term Wins over Long-term Value: The focus on velocity could lead teams to prioritize work that will ‘score points’ now at the expense of activities that contribute to long-term success and value creation, such as refactoring or tackling technical debt.
  3. Stifled Innovation: When the directive is to “go fast,” where is the time for innovation, for trying new approaches, or for learning from failure

A Leadership Issue, Not Just a Team Issue

Imposing velocity as the sole metric is a form of micromanagement that neglects the nuanced fabric of agile values. It reveals a lack of trust in the team’s ability to self-organize and understand what value means in their work.

Management, knowingly or unknowingly, fosters an environment where velocity becomes the altar at which everyone worships, sacrificing the tenets of meaningful work, sustainable pace, and, most importantly, customer value.

A Provocation for Managers and Teams Alike

If your performance review or project success is pinned solely to velocity, ask yourself:

  • What are we accelerating toward?
  • Are we on a highway to real value or stuck in a roundabout of vanity metrics and illusions?

The challenge for managers is to rethink their use of velocity as a managerial crutch and to recognize that agility is not a numbers game. For teams, the challenge is to foster an open dialogue about the value they deliver, regardless of how many story points are attached to it.
Velocity should be a tool for reflection and adaptation, not a yardstick for external judgment.

Let’s shift from a culture of velocity to a culture of value because agility is about delivering value sustainably, not just going faster.

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