Reaction Time: An Agile Management Metric

14 Nov

I was recently on a nature hike on the side of Superstition Mountain in Scottsdale, AZ. The hike started out as a gradual ascension up the rocky grade and culminated with a stop near the base of one of the more sheer faces of the mountain. As we reached the trail summit (I really wanted to use the word ‘apex’ right there…I knew a guy in high school who wore Apex football shoes and I think of those shoes every time I hear that word…anyway…), we enjoyed a very beautiful scene as we looked down at the surrounding desert and countryside.

Then came the fun part: the descent. I was sucking some serious wind as we went up the trail, so having gravity help us down the trail was a small, yet welcomed reward for our hard work of getting to the top. So, because I didn’t have to work as hard to come down the mountain, my mind started to wonder. As we came down, you had to really bend your knees and watch where you were stepping in order to keep your balance and avoid big holes and rocks on the trail. The act of doing this quickly sort of made me feel like I was a contestant in some sort of obstacle course. Or, in a video game of some kind where you have to react very quickly in order to avoid harm. Two examples of games like this immediately popped into my head: Kaboom! on the Atari 2600 and Mike Tyson’s Punch Out! for the NES.

kaboom nes_tysons_punch-out_tyson
Kaboom!
(I would still have this game, but as a kid I loaned it to my neighbor and his dumb dad stepped on it and broke it. What a mook…)
Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!
(Seriously, I have beat Tyson before. 007-373-5963 proves it, sucka…)

 

Remember these games? They both require a quick eye and fast reaction time in order to win (or get a really high score). The more I thought about these two games the more I realized the same was essential for a good manager. This made me wonder how what I was doing might apply to software development somehow. Then it hit me: removing impediments.

As their manager, my teams present the impediments they face but can’t resolve on their own to me. Some examples might include team resource allocations, change processes (or lack of), or perhaps poor project participation from business users/beta testers. I try to resolve most of these issues as quickly as I can. However, at times some of them go on the lower half of my priority list. Obviously, those items that are critical to the team and perhaps the department should be dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Measuring the amount of time it takes a person to remove these impediments could be very telling of their effectiveness as a so-called impediment remover. In many cases, this could also indicate the organization’s tolerance for change and agility. I’m not sure if this particular metric has already been discussed within the agile world, so the only name I could come up with is Reaction Time: the amount of time it takes for impediments outside of a software development team’s control to be removed.

In his book “Agile Portfolio Management”, Jochen Krebs describes how to measure team morale as a metric for project performance. He suggests polling team members on morale, and then plotting their average morale vote on a line graph he calls a “Morale Barometer”. I would suggest that in addition to tracking team morale, charting either the ScrumMaster’s or the eventual “impediment remover’s” Reaction Time to removing impediments would provide a team a better idea of their overall agility. Just an idea…

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One Response to “Reaction Time: An Agile Management Metric”

  1. jhered November 14, 2008 at 9:36 pm #

    Good story and great comment about “your role” as a manager being an impediment remover and the onlyl valuable metric you can provide on yourself is how well you’re clearing roadblocks for the team.

    I like it.

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