Which metrics are and are not acceptable when assessing the value of a user story?

Which metrics are and are not acceptable when assessing the value of a user story?

Welcome to part 34 of our scrum master interview questions series where John McFadyen answers common questions asked of a scrum master in interviews and client engagements.

That’s an interesting interview question. It’s worth starting by exploring the value of the user story before assigning metrics to it. My first thought turns to the INVEST acronym.

  • Is the user story INDEPENDENT?
  • Is the user story NEGOTIABLE?
  • Is the user story VALUABLE?
  • Is the user story ESTIMATABLE?
  • Is the user story SIZEABLE?
  • Is the user story TESTABLE?

That’s a great place to start to test whether you have a good user story item.

What are good metrics for a user story?

What we are trying to articulate is the value of the user story to the customer or end-user or product stakeholder.

What are good metrics for that? The truth is, absolutely anything could be a great metric for that, it just needs to align with what you have identified as valuable, in the context of customers and the organization, for it to be useful as a leading or lagging indicator of success.

Money

Many people start with a dollar value to articulate how well this user story creates or captures value for the organization or customer.

Revenue, profitability, etc. are great metrics for that.

In essence, you are asking the question of how much money, or more money, your organization or the customer will make because this user story item exists. And that’s a good measure of value. Many of the financial institutions I have worked with use money metrics as a primary measure of value.

This is a great starting point but isn’t the only measure of value. We need to recognize and understand that there are different types of value.

Customer Acquisition

Another organization may decide that acquiring customers and end-users onto the platform is a far more valuable measure than how much revenue is created. Facebook would be a great example of this. Onboarding users who don’t pay any revenue, initially, is a great measure of value for their platform.

Customer Satisfaction

Other organizations may value customer satisfaction as their primary measure of value. Will this user story increase customer satisfaction and lead to increased referrals? If so, then NPS (Net Promoter Score) would be a great metric to use in that circumstance.

Employee Satisfaction

I’ve worked with organizations where their primary measure of value is employee satisfaction. Are the people who are working on this product deriving satisfaction from their experience and are we creating enough value, internally, to attract the very best developers in the world.

So, hopefully you can see that value is going to be incredibly context dependence.

What should you do?

What you need to do to ensure that the metrics you are deploying are a good measure of value within the organization, and from a customer perspective, is to go back to the product vision and product goal.

  • Why does your product matter?
  • What change are you looking to create in the market?
  • How does your product change the game for customers?
  • How does your product solve customer pain points?
  • Why does the organization exist, and how does this product help that purpose?

And so forth.

You want to check in at the product level and then explore the organizational level.

  • What are the business drivers in the organization?
  • What is the strategic direction the organization is committed to?
  • What organizational OKRs or Metrics matter most?

Your user story items need to speak to those objectives and goals.

  • How does the user story help you achieve the product goal?
  • How does the user story help you achieve product owner goals?
  • How does the user story help you achieve a customer objective?
  • How does the user story help move the needle on important organizational metrics?

Once you have done this exercise, it becomes very simple to ascertain the value of a user story and assign the appropriate metric to that user story or series of user stories.

Define a hypothesis and run an experiment.

Many leaders want to know that the organization is moving in the right direction. They are actively looking to metrics to provide a leading indicator of success or failure.

A valuable exercise for the team is to define a hypothesis.

We believe that doing this will enable us to achieve that objective so that an organizational or customer objective is achieved. We will know that is true when X metric reaches or exceeds this measure.

Later on, we believe that adding X feature will continue to grow our success relative to the customer or organizational objective that is measured through Y metric.

You don’t have to be right. You need to discover the right way forward and defining hypotheses and measuring the success of your experiments will help you do that effectively.

So, that’s how I would advise you to proceed with assessing the value of a user story.

About John McFadyen

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John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.

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