Unleashing True Velocity: Beyond Task Completion to Customer Value

Explore the true essence of velocity beyond task completion. Discover why delivering value to the customer is paramount. Uncover the limitations of velocity as a metric and shift focus towards creating smoother flows, optimizing story composition, and limiting work in progress (WIP) for a more stable and mature delivery capability. Unleash the power of true velocity and achieve customer-centric success. Learn how to optimize your workflow and deliver valuable outcomes with this comprehensive guide.

Josh Ether

11/3/20233 min read

In the realm of agile development and project management, the concept of velocity has taken center stage. Velocity, often seen as a key performance metric, measures the rate at which a team delivers value to the customer. However, simply completing numerous tasks without adding value to the customer is a futile endeavor. True velocity lies in the ability to deliver meaningful outcomes that resonate with the customer's needs and expectations. In this article, we'll delve into the essence of velocity as a lagging indicator, explore its limitations in identifying process issues, and shift our focus towards creating smoother flows, optimizing story composition, and limiting work in progress (WIP) to achieve a more stable and mature delivery capability.

Velocity as a Lagging Indicator:

Velocity is not an inherent characteristic of a team; it is an output observed at the end of a series of steps. It provides a retrospective snapshot of the team's progress but offers limited insights into the underlying causes of process issues. Relying solely on velocity to assess team performance and efficiency can lead to a superficial understanding of the team's true potential. While velocity can indicate how much work a team can complete within a given time frame, it does not reveal the reasons behind variations in performance or the root causes of inefficiencies. Therefore, using velocity as the sole measure of success may result in overlooking crucial process improvements that could lead to better outcomes and customer value.

Delivering Customer Value:

The core purpose of any development team is to deliver value to the customer. Velocity without customer value is an empty metric—a vanity number that fails to drive meaningful progress. To unleash true velocity, we must align our focus with the customer's needs and expectations. By centering our efforts on creating smoother flows and optimizing story composition, we can prioritize value-driven outcomes and cultivate a culture of continuous improvement. By understanding the customer's perspective and engaging in regular feedback loops, teams can fine-tune their delivery process and ensure that each task contributes directly to the overall value provided to the customer.

Creating Smoother Flows:

A key element in achieving true velocity lies in creating smoother flows within our processes. By identifying and eliminating bottlenecks, reducing unnecessary handoffs, and streamlining communication channels, we enable a more seamless and efficient workflow. One effective approach is to visualize the entire value stream, from idea to delivery, and identify areas where work gets stuck or delayed. By mapping out the flow of work, teams can identify opportunities for improvement, such as automating repetitive tasks, standardizing processes, and implementing effective collaboration tools. Smoother flows promote a sense of rhythm and momentum, allowing teams to navigate through tasks with greater ease and agility. By continually optimizing and refining the flow, teams can accelerate the delivery of customer value and increase their overall velocity.

Optimizing Story Composition:

Effective story composition plays a pivotal role in delivering customer value. By investing time and effort into crafting well-defined user stories, teams can ensure a shared understanding of requirements and goals. Clear, concise, and actionable user stories empower teams to work with purpose, reducing ambiguity and enhancing collaboration. Effective story composition involves engaging stakeholders, gathering detailed requirements, and breaking down work into manageable and meaningful units. Each story should have a clear objective, well-defined acceptance criteria, and a prioritized order based on customer value. By focusing on optimizing story composition, teams can streamline their development process, reduce wasteful efforts, and increase the likelihood of delivering valuable outcomes that resonate with the customer.

Limiting Work in Progress (WIP):

To enhance velocity and enable teams to mature into rapid delivery, limiting work in progress (WIP) is crucial. Focusing on a smaller number of tasks at any given time reduces context-switching and cognitive overload, allowing teams to concentrate their efforts and deliver higher-quality outcomes. When teams have too many tasks in progress simultaneously, they often face challenges in managing dependencies, communicating effectively, and maintaining a sustainable pace of work. By consciously managing WIP, teams can unlock their true potential and achieve a stable velocity that aligns with customer expectations. Limiting WIP involves setting explicit work-in-progress limits, visualizing and tracking the status of each task, and encouraging a culture of collaboration and shared responsibility. Teams can implement practices like Kanban or Scrum to manage WIP effectively and create a smoother workflow that leads to improved productivity and customer value delivery.

Velocity, as a lagging indicator, has its limitations in providing deep insights into process issues. To truly harness the power of velocity, we must shift our focus towards delivering value to the customer. By creating smoother flows, optimizing story composition, and limiting work in progress, we pave the way for a more stable and mature delivery capability. Let us break free from the narrow confines of task completion and embrace a holistic approach that emphasizes customer-centricity, continuous improvement, and the unwavering pursuit of meaningful outcomes. Only then can we unlock the true potential of velocity and propel our teams towards unprecedented levels of success.