Team health is the only Agile metric that matters

September 2, 2019

Is your team improving or is it just delivering? OKRs like velocity, points, cards, issues, pull requests, throughput, uptime, downtime, bugs, and errors give incredible insight into your team’s performance — but they are by no means a guarantee of a positive outcome for that feature, project, or milestone. They are lagging indicators for what’s actually happening inside your team.

“That’s why we run agile retrospectives at the end of each sprint!” And that’s a great suggestion but even if that case, the output is anecdotal and qualitative — harder to compare sprint over sprint or measure against the company’s average. No matter what you call it, “employee engagement”, “morale”, or “team health”, you need to start measuring it now before it’s too late. Academy award-winning filmmaker behind The Incredibles, Brad Bird, put it best:

“If you have low morale, for every $1 you spend, you get about 25 cents of value. If you have high morale, for every $1 you spend, you get about $3 of value. Companies should pay much more attention to morale.”

According to Gallup (whose science is based on 30 years of research with over 30 million employees), 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged at work. In their research on “The State of the American Workplace”, it was found that on average, 17.2% are “actively disengaged.” Even scarier, it was found that actively disengaged employees cost their organizations $3,400 for every $10,000 in salary. That’s an $80,000 employee costing you $27,200. Similarly, the Hay Group reported that engaged employees generate 43% more revenue than disengaged ones. And if your actively disengaged employees are twice as likely to leave their roles for minor raises (54% vs. 27% for engaged employees), you need to get to the source of your issues fast before things get out of control.

While the OKRs mentioned earlier at lagging indicators, team health is a window into your project’s future. Do you suspect your team is getting disengaged but had great velocity? Then you already know what to expect.

Companies like Atlassian, Spotify, and more have implemented all sorts of team health monitors and Agile maturity models to narrow in on the specifics for where their teams might need help. These are fantastic approaches to driving detailed insight. Unfortunately, the implementation can be abrasive and cumbersome for a busy team on the go. That doesn’t allow you not to measure these things though. Start with a NPS-style single question satisfaction surveys with your team from sprint to sprint and go from there.

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