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The ReleaseTEAM Blog: Here's what you need to know...

VSM-Defining Common Measurements and Metrics

Part 2 of a series:

In last month’s blog, we discussed what value stream management (VSM) is and why it is essential for businesses and DevOps teams. As a quick reminder, the goals of value stream management include shortening time-to-market, increasing productivity, improving quality, and optimizing the entire software delivery life cycle to meet business objectives.

This means examining and measuring activities outside of the development and delivery phases because bottlenecks and wasted efforts can occur anywhere from ideation to operation. Using the right metrics will help organizations measure their current software development life cycle (SDLC), identify areas for improvement, and confirm whether actions taken improved the outcomes.

Let’s look at some of the metrics used to measure the SDLC value stream:

Traditional VSM Metrics
Process Time (PT)How long does it take to process one unit of work?
Lead Time (LT)The elapsed time it takes from the moment a work item is made available to the developer or work team until it is complete and handed off to the next person or team in the value stream. Lead times are calculated for each step in the value stream and from an idea (of a feature, for example) to release.
Work-in-progress (WIP)How much work is accumulating between or within processes?
Activity Ratio Activity ratio is computed with the equation (PT/LT)*100
Percent Complete and AccurateWhat percent of downstream processes and teams receive work that is correct and usable as is?
“Flow” Metrics
Flow VelocityHow many work items were completed in a day, week, sprint, or month? Are these rates improving over time?
Flow TimeHow long does it take to deliver value, and is that time getting shorter?

As you can see in the table above, our metrics are divided into two categories: traditional and flow metrics. Traditional metrics were used to track the build or fulfillment of physical items like cars or prescriptions. They are still valuable for software development. Dr. Mik Kersten, CEO of Tasktop, created the flow metrics as part of the Flow Framework.

Regardless of whether you use traditional or flow metrics, it’s important to look at repeated, averaged measurements over time. For example, different features are different in how complex they are to code and integrate. If you measured the lead time on an effortless feature, then it might not be apparent that the team struggles with work items that have a specific dependency. If you repeatedly measure lead time, you begin to see patterns that will inform where to focus improvement efforts.

Although we use metrics to identify bottlenecks and improve productivity, metrics are vital in proving the success of new approaches and changes. To do this, understand and map how each metric will improve business outcomes such as product quality, costs, new revenue generated, or employee happiness.

The ability to demonstrate how a change has improved business outcomes can sway both team members and management to try new tools, collaboration, and frameworks in the future.

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