Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What we REALLY Value is the Cost...

Today, someone in the community mentioned the idea of measuring "value points".  And the light went on... could this finally highlight our productivity problems?  It could be a totally dead-end idea, but its a hypothesis that needs testing.

When I thought "value points", I imagined a bunch of product folks sitting around playing planning poker judging the relative value of features. Using stable reference stories and choosing whether one story was more or less valuable than others. Might seem goofy, but its an interesting idea. My initial thought was that this would be way more stable over time than cost since cost varies dramatically over the lifetime of a project. And if it is truly stable, it might provide the missing link when trying to understand changes in cost over time.

For this to make sense, you gotta think about long term trends.  Suppose our team can deliver 20 points of cost per sprint. But our codebase gets more complex, bigger, uglier and more costly to change. Early on, we can do 10 stories at 2 points each.  But 2 years later, very similar features on the more complex code base require more effort to implement, so maybe these similar stories now take 5 points each and we can do 4 of them.  Our capacity is still 20 story points, but our ability to delivery value has REALLY decreased.

We often use story points as a proxy for value delivered per sprint, but think about that... We get "credit" for the -cost- of the story as opposed to the -value- of the story.   If our costs go up, we get MORE credit for the same work!

How can we ever hope to improve productivity if we measure our value in terms of our costs? How can we tell if a story that has a cost of 5 could have been a cost of 1? Looking at story points as value delivered makes the productivity problems INVISIBLE. It's no wonder that it's so hard to get buy in for technical debt...

What if we aimed for value point delivery? If you improved productivity, or your productivity tanked, would it actually be visible then? On that same project, with 20 cost points per sprint, suppose that equates to 10 value points early on, and 4 value points later.  Clearly something is different. Maybe we should talk about how to improve? Productivity, anyone? Innovation?

At least it would seem to encourage the right conversations...

No comments:

Post a Comment