Use Flow Analytics to Improve Visibility and Drive Agile Improvement

July 29, 2021

Contributor: Laura Starita

Flow analytics provide technical leaders, product leaders and business leaders with visibility into the agile product development process, enabling clearer insights and more informed decision making.

Every software engineering leader has at some point fielded a seemingly simple question from a business stakeholder — What’s the status of those new features? Yet, whether it is new application functionality or a new module on the company’s website, “status” isn’t always easy to know because of how work flows through an agile software development organization. Multiple application teams likely touch the work from request to delivery, making it hard to see at a glance where things stand.

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“Software engineering leaders rolling out agile product delivery at scale implement highly automated processes across many teams, which themselves are powered by a variety of DevOps tools and individual team practices,” says Bill Swanton, Distinguished VP Analyst, Gartner. “The result is a lack of process visibility to leaders, to the teams and to the business.”

One way to increase visibility in an agile software development environment is through flow analytics. Similar to the metrics used by businesses leveraging Lean performance improvement methods, flow analytics show how work moves through the software development process, and how well teams respond to changes in demand. 

Examples of flow metrics for product teams include lead time (or the time it takes from request to delivery) and cycle time (the time it takes to complete one stage of a process), to name just two. For technical teams, relevant metrics might be code change size and code delivery speed. Business teams, for their part, may need to know product cost and product value.

Multiple stakeholders benefit from flow metrics

Stakeholders, including technical teams, product management teams and business teams, benefit in different ways from the insights that flow analytics give into the agile software development process. For example:

  • Technical teams enable continuous improvement: Software engineering leaders can leverage flow analytics to inform improvement efforts up and down their domain. The metrics help identify process performance gaps that development teams can work with Scrum coaches to close, and technical tool chain constraints that DevOps teams can work to remove. Flow metrics also highlight proven practices that software engineering leaders can share with other workgroups. One caveat, though: The purpose of these metrics is to drive improvement, not penalize people when the metrics reveal gaps or constraints that need to be fixed. Don’t tie them to rewards or compensation.
  • Product managers can see progress on the product roadmap: Having visibility into the status of products and features gives product leaders the insights they need to make decisions about resources, timelines and product priorities.
  • Business stakeholders gain reassurance and trust: Business leaders with access to real-time metrics can see consistent progress toward milestones — they don’t have to wait for periodic reviews, between which they have no way of knowing whether product and technical teams are delivering on their promises. Visibility fosters trust. In the event of a delay or complication, both sides can likewise see the same information and communicate more effectively to make data-guided decisions.

Role-based benefits of flow analytics

Implement flow analytics systems to enable fast, accurate delivery

Many software vendors have developed flow analytics systems that integrate with software development and monitoring tools. They gather data from disparate tools, perform analysis on the data, and present role-specific metrics that improve transparency and accelerate software delivery.

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