Visibility Builds Trust

Creative Commons License Matt Seppings

Last week, the CTO of a partner company came over to me and asked: “Hey Matthias, do you have any benchmarks on how many commits your developers do each day? And how many lines of code they produce? I would love to compare the performance of our teams to be able to show my CEO that we’re doing fine. He keeps wondering whether it would not be possible to do more features, faster.”

Maybe you’ve been approached with similar requests either by your boss or your colleagues. Of course, the gold owners always keep pushing for more features, faster. But in my experience, measuring performance in the ways proposed by my friend are not helpful.

Let’s look at the underlying issues. What makes the gold owner wonder whether his tech team could perform better? I’m sure he trusts his team, but he isn’t able to judge what they’re doing. In my experience, this is often a sign of not enough visibility into product development. Whenever someone has no insight into an area, he gets insecure and starts wondering what might go on there. I asked my friend about their current process to verify my guess that it may have some in-transparencies. He explained: “We define a release to deliver a set of features at a specific date. Then we manage our development and operations tasks in trac. And after a couple of weeks we deliver the features. Of course, we have to deal with operations task, too.” That looked like a traditional “throw it over the fence” process to me. No wonder the gold owner got nervous. He had the chance to shape the product only once every month or so, and was then forced to sit and wait for whatever might come out of the tech department weeks later. Not very fitting to the business requirements of a highly dynamic web startup.

Improving Visibility Through An Agile Development Process

I showed him how we manage our development. At my company, everyone involved in product development uses the same tool, pivotal tracker. The product owner enters and re-prioritizes stories any time and gets a real time view how his changes affect the outcome of our weekly iterations. And he has a real time view on who is working on which story. Even if he isn’t constantly checking the tool, he gets email updates as soon as a story is ready for him to test. Not surprisingly, being able to continuously change the game while being actively involved in the process dramatically reduces the pressure and uncertainty of the gold owner.

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