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Are metrics always helpful? an example of a success and a failure

Engineering teams often keep metrics on their work, but are these metrics always helpful?. 

Metrics could be something that the manager or director has asked for or metrics something that the team has created to help the team. I have found that creating metrics on quality is something testers often do. Creating useful metrics is not easy and creating metrics is an underrated skill that testers have.

If you work in a startup you will have more freedom as to what metrics to create and if you work in a larger company you will probably have less influence over what metrics are created.

Metrics that support the engineering team can help the team improve. If the metrics do not support the team, then the team can feel that it is being judged or measured and the team can become defensive.

I once worked in a team which had made big improvements in the quality of its work and I kept a chart showing each time we had to fix a bug in production. This was good news for the team as the improvements the team had made meant that we did not have any incidents in production and only had to fix a bug once every six weeks. This metric showed the team what it had achieved, helped the team feel good and encouraged further improvement.

A friend of mine once worked in a team that made monthly releases. They put a post it note on the wall for each bug put into production, and grouped the post it notes by release, soon the wall was too small for all the post it notes. My friend’s line manager liked it because it visualized the scale of the problem, but the management team saw it as a threat. The metrics created with the post its notes contributed to tension amongst the management team and so had no positive effect on quality.

Creating metrics that support the team can have a positive effect on the team and contribute to continuous improvement.

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Published by Mike Harris

Mike has been working in testing for 20 years and is currently the lone tester for Geckoboard. He has been a Test Lead and has also worked as a part of waterfall, lean and agile teams. He is also Programme Secretary of BCS SIGiST. Mike has a B.Sc.(HONS) from Middlesex University and is an Associate of the University of Hertfordshire. He has set up and led a Testing Community of Practice and been part of a successful agile transition. He is Co-Programme Chair of the British Computer Society’s Specialist Interest Group in Software Testing. He also contributed to the e-book Testing Stories and has had articles published by the Ministry of Testing. Follow Mike on Twitter: @TestAndAnalysis

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