All software development teams know how important metrics are for making sure your team’s work is meeting business goals. Metrics can measure progress, keep projects on task, identify additional resources needed and highlight opportunities for improvement. Basic metrics for teams following agile or lean processes include components such as lead time, cycle time, team velocity and open/close rate. While there are many other steps you could assess, this article focuses on the importance of team velocity in managing successful software development teams.

What is Velocity?

Velocity is a way to measure how much work your team accomplishes over a certain period of time. To understand how velocity is measured, you first need to know the terms unit of work and interval.

Unit of work: This is a metric chosen by the team such as engineer hours, story points, number of tasks or ideal days of effort.
Interval: This variable is also determined by the team. It is a duration or measurement period such as one week. The interval or iteration is also called a sprint.

Velocity is a measure of how many units of work a team completed in one interval. It assigns points to different tasks and totals the number of points accomplished in a sprint.

Why is Velocity Important?

Measuring velocity is a good way to know how your team is performing. Although it takes three to six iterations for the metric to stabilize, it still can provide helpful information quickly. If you want to use it as a predictive mechanism, you’ll need to gather your operations director, scrum master and other key stakeholders and consider it along with other more comprehensive metrics. In order to keep alignment around the metric, it will be important to have the metric set up and visible in company dashboards and software engineer performance dashboards.

Velocity will be most powerful if you have teams that have worked together for a long period of time on similar tasks. With a more stable team, it’s more likely that the measurement will yield fairly consistent results from project to project. This can help with planning future projects.

Velocity is also used in a burndown chart. A burndown chart measures output over a sprint. Velocity can inform if a team is on track to complete the estimated output of that sprint.

However, there are some common misunderstanding with utilizing this metric. Velocity should not be used as a goal. As a manager, you need to make sure your team is not sacrificing quality while trying to hit this “goal” since it is not a goal. It also isn’t relevant for comparing team performance. Each team has different objectives and therefore different velocities. However, it is a group metric, not an individual metric.

How Can Velocity Improve Your Team’s Performance?

Velocity provides valuable information to software development teams. Sprint retrospectives allow teams to know if they are on track or if there are any potential inefficiencies or problems that need to be addressed. If velocity is not stable, even after multiple iterations, it could be an indicator that you need to improve your estimation methods or that you didn’t consider other business pressures that would impact performance. If you calculate and leverage velocity correctly, it can help you optimize your team’s pace of work and more effectively manage software development projects.

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