5 Agile Metrics to Improve Performance and Quality

This is a guest article from Gilad David Maayan.

Agile has been a buzzword for many organizations in the last few years. And while many organizations are “adopting” an agile methodology, many are not fully embracing it.

Effective implementation of agile requires a cultural shift. You need to actively work towards continuous improvement. To achieve this level of collaboration you need to be able to measure it.

Read on to learn how to use agile metrics to improve your work processes.

What Is Agile?

Agile is a project methodology that focuses on collaboration, flexibility, and autonomy. The goal of agile is to provide continuously integrated and delivered products quickly while maintaining quality.

Here are the four tenets of agile, as written in The Agile Manifesto:

  • “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”
  • “Working products over comprehensive documentation”
  • “Customer collaboration over contract negotiation”
  • “Responding to change over following a plan”

Related: Agile vs Waterfall Methodology: What’s the Difference?

5 Agile Metrics That Can Make a Difference in Your Project

Once you’ve decided to implement agile, you and your team need a way of measuring the success of your implementation. If you have no feedback from which to improve your processes, you cannot gain the benefits of agility. Metrics are one way to collect feedback on your progress and strategies. 

To gain the greatest benefit, it is important to choose metrics that directly relate to your goals and processes. Remember that metrics aren’t definitive and cannot explain the full picture on their own. Also, metrics should not be used for punishment, only for feedback and improvement.

The following metrics can provide a good place to start evaluating you and your team’s agility:

1. Escaped Defects

Escaped defects metrics measure the number of bugs affecting users in production. It can indicate software quality and value. Ideally, this metric is zero but realistically, your aim should be to keep it as low as possible.

Your number of escaped defects is more useful when used in combination with defect density. Defect density is the number of defects per line of code. This combo can give you an idea of how reliable your project is to begin with, and can spotlight poor coding practices.

Related: A PM’s Guide to Agile Software Development

2. Epic and Release Burndown

Epic and release burndown metrics track your development progress across multiple sprints. These metrics provide insight into the amount of work you’re accomplishing over the life of each iteration. Epic and release burndown can help you identify excessive scope creep if they indicate that your percentage of work done in not increasing throughout an epic.

When using these metrics, watch for epic or release forecasts not being updated between sprints. Lack of updating will make these metric meaningless. If you do identify scope creep, it could be due to the product owner not understanding the goals of the product.

3. Sprint Burndown

Sprint burn down tracks the completion of work through a sprint. It can be measured in story points or hours of work. 

When using this metric, watch for trends of finishing early or late. Consistently early finish times can indicate that your team is not committing to enough work. Consistently late can mean you’re committing to too much work or not appropriately planning for barriers to progress. If you see steep drops in your burndown graphs, it’s an indication that you’re not breaking down work effectively. 

4. Cycle Time

Cycle time metrics measure the actual time spent working on individual issues. This is different than lead time, which measures the age of tasks from introduction to finish. Shorter cycle times often mean a higher throughput. Consistent cycle times can mean predictability and help you forecast future timelines.

You can use cycle time in combination with work item age metrics to get picture both during and after task completion. Work item age measures the time of individual tasks from introduction to completion. When using these metrics, pay attention to trends, not outliers. Watch out for increasing cycle times, which can indicate failing processes. However, if your definitions of cycle completion have changed, increased times might be expected. Also, compare cycle times according to similar story point values. Low point value cycles should take less time than high point value.

5. Velocity

Velocity, also known as throughput, measures the average amount of work completed in a sprint. It tracks progress over multiple iterations. It can reflect story points or hours completed. Velocity is useful for forecasting future sprints and can be used to verify the effectiveness of process changes. Typically, velocity increases as teams become more comfortable with the work, and therefore more effective.

If you see a decrease in velocity, it can provide a starting point for your next retrospective. Consider whether the decrease is due to internal or external challenges.

When using velocity, it’s important not to compare velocity between teams. Individual teams have unique ways of measuring progress and planning sprints so you would be comparing dissimilar measures.

Bonus Metric – Cumulative Flow

Technically, cumulative flow isn’t a metric. Rather, it’s a visualization of a combination of metrics. Cumulative flow typically combines lead and cycle time, throughput, and work in progress across the lifespan of your project. You can use it to help ensure a consistent workflow across your project and identify work shortages or bottlenecks.

When using cumulative flow, watch for blocking issues that create backups and reduce progress. You should also watch for unchecked backlog growth. To avoid this growth, make sure that product owners are closing issues that are no longer relevant or feasible.


To ensure the success of your agile teams, it is not enough to just look at metrics. You also need to include qualitative measures, like team happiness and customer satisfaction. Additionally, retrospectives are vital to applying insights gained from metrics. 

Hopefully, this article has provided you with some tools you can begin using to improve the agility of your teams. Implementing agile successfully takes considerable time and effort but the results can be tremendous. 

Related: 3 Easy Agile Practices Your Team Can Start Today

Related: Agile vs Waterfall Methodology: What’s the Difference?

And if your team isn’t using agile, you might be interested in the metrics mentioned here: Project Metrics Made Simple (and Fun)


Gilad David Maayan

Gilad David Maayan is a technology writer who has worked with over 150 technology companies including SAP, Samsung NEXT, NetApp and Imperva, producing technical and thought leadership content that elucidates technical solutions for developers and IT leadership.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/giladdavidmaayan/

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