Dojo Metrics - Moving From What is Easy to capture to What Matters

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A fair question to ask when starting a Dojo (or any initiative for that matter) is “how do we know this is working?” Invariably, right on the heels of that question somebody always brings up the idea of capturing metrics. Then they turn to us and say “What are the right metrics for the Dojo?”.

The best metrics provide insights that help us take action to improve the current situation. In the case of a new initiative like a Dojo, that action might be making a decision to continue the initiative, modify it, or end it.

Sadly, metrics are often arbitrary or they tell an incomplete story. Single metrics fail to capture the interplay and tradeoffs between different metrics. We’ve heard many stories of how organizations optimizing for one metric created detrimental results overall. (We’re looking at you, capacity utilization.)

how do we measure the effectiveness of the Dojo?

The primary goal of the Dojo is to foster learning. We need to measure the effectiveness of that learning and ultimately, we need to measure the economic impact that learning has on the organization. But it’s not learning at any cost. We’re aligned with Don Reinertsen on this point.

In product development, neither failure, nor success, nor knowledge creation, nor learning is intrinsically good. In product development our measure of “goodness” is economic: does the activity help us make money? In product development we create value by generating valuable information efficiently. Of course, it is true that success and failure affect the efficiency with which we generate information, but in a more complex way than you may realize. It is also true that learning and knowledge sometimes have economic value; but this value does not arise simply because learning and knowledge are intrinsically “good.” Creating information, resolving uncertainty, and generating new learning only improve economic outcomes when cost of creating this learning is less than its benefit."
Don Reinertsen - "The Four Impostors: Success, Failure, Knowledge Creation, and Learning"

 

Reinertsen stresses the need to generate information efficiently. This is easy to understand when thinking in terms of generating information that helps you make decisions about your product. For example, it’s a fairly straightforward exercise to determine the costs for generating information by running low-fi, paper prototype tests that answer the question “should we include this feature or not?”

It’s also easy to understand how you might measure the effectiveness of knowledge creation when helping teams make improvements on their continuous delivery pipelines. We can calculate the cost of learning DevOps practices and compare that to expenses saved by automating manual processes.

What’s not as easy to understand is how to measure the impact of learning cloud native architecture or micro services - or something even more nebulous, like product thinking and the impact of learning a design practice like personas.

We would expect the impact of these learnings to result in lower development costs, decreased cycle times, and increased revenues resulting from better market fit for our products. But – there is a high degree of uncertainty as to the level of impact these learnings are going to have on the organization. (Again, hat tip to Don Reinertsen. His post about looking at the economics of technical debt influences our thinking here.)

In addition, during a team’s tenure in the Dojo it’s quite probable that their productivity will decrease as the team is creating new knowledge and incorporating new practices. The team's investment in learning carries a cost.

Ultimately, we need to understand the impact the Dojo has on lifecycle profits. That impact will often occur after a team has left the Dojo.

We have started organizing metrics in the Dojo into three groups. Our goal is to help orient stakeholders, leaders, and teams around what actions these metrics will help them take. We also want to help them understand the level of effort required to collect the metrics and the timeframes in which they will be available.

Three Categories of Metrics for the Dojo

SIMPLE TO CAPTURE - ORGANIZATIONAL REACH

These metrics simply show the amount of “touch” the Dojo has.

Examples include:

  • Number of teams going through the Dojo
  • Total number of attendees
  • Number of Programs / Portfolios touched

Astute readers may critically call these “vanity metrics” and they would not be wrong. These metrics do not equate to impact. They don’t help us answer the questions “Were the right teams involved?”, “Did the amount of learning that happened justify the investment?”, or “How much learning stuck?”

However, these metrics are simple to collect and can be used as leading indicators once we have metrics on the economic impact the Dojo has on teams. For many organizations, these metrics are important because they imply value as the Dojo is being bootstrapped, even though they don't prove it. They are metrics everyone is comfortable with.

HARDER TO CAPTURE – DIRECTIONAL / TEAM BASED IMPROVEMENTS

Metrics in this category are more important than the previous category in the sense that these metrics look at the directional impact of learning in the Dojo and how that learning is impacting teams.

Examples include:

  • Number of automated tests
  • SQALE code quality index
  • Percentage reduction in defects
  • Cycle time reduction to deliver a product increment
  • Velocity / Story count (with the obvious caveat that these can be easily gamed)

Again, these metrics are far from perfect. The testing related metrics do not prove the right tests were written (or the right code for that matter). Metrics showing products were built faster don’t shed any light on whether those products should have been built in the first place (what if nobody buys them?).

What these metrics do show is the incorporation of product delivery practices that are being taught in the Dojo - practices that our experience and the experiences of other organizations have shown to have a positive impact on lifecycle profits. These metrics can be collected with agile project management software, SonarQube, Hygieia, or other comparable tools.

When we use these types of metrics we need to have a baseline. It’s helpful to have data for teams for two to three months prior to when they enter the Dojo. We don’t always have this baseline, however, and in some cases the best we can do during a team’s tenure in the Dojo is help them establish the baseline. Obviously, we want to track these metrics for teams after they’ve left the Dojo to see how well new practices are sticking.

DIFFICULT TO CAPTURE – IMPACT / ECONOMIC IMPROVEMENTS

Metrics in this group are challenging - not only to collect but also because using them to drive action challenges the way many organizations work. These are the metrics that force us to look at the question “Is this initiative having a positive economic impact on the organization?”

Examples include:

  • Increase in sales conversion
  • Cycle time reduction for a delivery with impact (not just delivery, but a delivery that mattered)
  • Systematic cost reductions (not silo optimizations that may have detrimental effects in other areas)
  • Savings resulting from killing bad product ideas early in the discovery/delivery cycle

Metrics like these can prove initiatives like the Dojo are having a positive impact on lifecycle profits. These metrics will be substantially harder to collect. We need to collect data for a much longer period of time. We need to align with the finance department in our organizations. And, we need whole product communities aligned around a shared understanding of what successful outcomes look like. In addition, we need to understand how to separate real signals of change from noise. (This post has more on that topic.)

Ultimately, this last category of metrics is what matters. This is where the Dojo shines. We work with teams to teach the practices, thinking, and communication strategies that will have an impact on lifecycle profits.

This is an ongoing area of improvement for us. This is what we are currently practicing. These categories of metrics are helping foster conversations, understanding of what knowledge individual metrics can provide, and the value of investing in the Dojo.