Have you ever found yourself collecting information on your process, but are unsure exactly what to do with the information?  We had a discussion about a metric like this in the past week and it reminded me of a good technique to help avoid this situation.

The metric in question was Actual Hours Applied to our project tasks.  This is part of the Plan Driven aspect of our process (see my Agile AND Plan Driven post) and is something that has been collected for years in this organization.  We don’t typically collect actual hours in our Scrum process, but update our enterprise project management system (MS Project) with this information on a weekly basis.  Our local Project Manager raised the issue of continued collection of Actual Hours Applied to the team leads earlier this week.

As we searched for a good rationale to either collect or not collect this information, I was reminded of the Goal-Question-Metric (GQM) method for metrics programs.  There are several good articles on GQM on the internet, so I will just explain it in a nutshell.  The paradigm involves three levels:  Conceptual (Goals), Operational (Questions), and Quantitative (Metric).   You use it from the top down using the following definitions as a guide:

Goal – what you are trying to accomplish organizationally.
Question – quantifiable questions to which you need answer to know of you are achieving the goal.
Metric – information that helps you answer the questions.

I like this approach as it always puts the metric in the context of an organizational goal.  You and your team can justify the need to track it and can use it to provide updates on progress to the goal.  (Note:  coming up with good metrics that modify behavior in-line with your goals can be very difficult.  I’m not heading down that rat hole today!).

We were, of course, thinking about our metric from the bottom up.  Lacking good justification for the metric, our leadership team's initial recommendation was that we make tracking Actual Hours Applied optional.  Given our lack of a clear goal, this seems entirely appropriate!