How agile velocity can facilitate project delivery [and six ways to improve it]

Velocity measures a team's work in a given period. Learn how to calculate it correctly and six ways to improve it.

Graphic illustrating resource article

If you're part of an agile team, you've probably heard the term agile velocity tossed around. But do you really know what it means and how it can help you improve project delivery?

In a nutshell, velocity measures the amount of work your team completes within a specific timeframe based on their own evaluation of each unit of work. Tracking your team's velocity gives you valuable insights into their performance over time and enables you to identify areas where you can support them better in accomplishing their most important tasks.

This article will delve deeper into what agile velocity means and why it's an essential metric for agile teams. We'll also explore proven strategies for improving your team's velocity and boosting your project delivery success.

So, buckle up, and let's dive into the exciting world of agile velocity!

What is velocity in the context of agile project management?

Velocity measures a team's work in a given period and it’s a critical metric in agile project management. It's calculated by assigning story points to tasks. By tracking velocity, teams can gain insights into their productivity and use this information to make data-driven decisions.

As a performance indicator, velocity helps teams continuously improve their processes and achieve greater project success.

Where did the term velocity come from?

The term velocity can be traced back to the introduction of extreme programming (XP) in 1996, long before agile became a mainstream methodology. XP provided software teams with early metrics to measure and track progress on an iteration-by-iteration basis.

Velocity was introduced as a simple metric to measure how much work was being completed within a specific time frame. This allowed teams to plan and execute future iterations more effectively by accounting for their velocity. Over time, velocity has become an essential tool for agile project teams worldwide.

Today, velocity helps teams and their project manager or scrum master plan iterations, estimate tasks accurately, manage budgets and deadlines, and engage stakeholders efficiently. Its origin in XP shows how early metrics and methods have evolved to become indispensable tools in the agile project management and sprint planning process.

➡️ Learn more about all the metrics and measurements used to evaluate project success.

How to calculate velocity

In its simplest form, agile team velocity is calculated as the total story points completed divided by the number of iterations. This metric can be calculated for each iteration or across multiple iterations.

Let's look at an example. The team assigned values to each piece of work or task they hoped to complete in the iteration. Some of it got done, and some of it didn't. The sum of the values of the work completed in the interaction is the measure of velocity for that iteration. Any work started but not completed in the iteration does not count towards the iteration's velocity, as those items go back into the backlog to be assessed for the next iteration.

example to show how agile velocity is calculated in one iteration
How agile velocity is calculated in one iteration

Velocity is measured for each iteration, and an average can be calculated over time based on the velocity measurements for at least four iterations. This average velocity is not an objective measure of the team's productivity but can be used to estimate the time to complete a backlog of work items over time.

It's worth noting that there are variations in how teams calculate velocity. Some teams may adjust their calculations based on factors like team size or the complexity of user stories. However, it's crucial to ensure that the measure of velocity and calculation method remains consistent, and that story point totals are adjusted to reflect complexity factors.

This will provide an accurate and reliable measurement of velocity that can help teams improve their performance and achieve their project goals.

Six ways to improve your team’s velocity

Many leaders and teams believe their velocity should continue to climb over time, but this is actually not true. Velocity is a powerful tool for agile teams to plan and forecast their progress, but it is not an objective measure of productivity.

Instead, velocity should be used as a planning and forecasting tool. While you should be cautious of using sprint velocity to measure your team's performance, there are ways to influence velocity and help your team achieve their goals.

Here are six tips to help improve your team's velocity:

1. Ensure a clean and ready prioritized backlog

Prioritize your product backlog based on business value and feasibility so the development team can first work on the most valuable and achievable user stories. Ensure that the top-priority stories are ready to be acted upon and can be completed in a couple of days or fewer.

2. Reduce or limit work in progress

Limiting the work in progress can help focus the team's efforts and reduce distractions, leading to faster completion of user stories. Encourage your team to finish what they started before moving on to the next set of work.

3. Improve communication

Encourage open communication among team members and stakeholders to ensure everyone understands what needs to be done and can address issues quickly. Swift and accurate communication can help improve velocity, especially when unexpected problems arise.

4. Embrace automation

Look for opportunities to automate repetitive or time-consuming tasks, allowing your team time to focus on more critical, value-generating tasks. Encourage cross-training between team members to identify opportunities to automate or complete tasks more efficiently.

5. Practice continuous improvement

Regularly review your processes and practices to identify areas for improvement, such as refining your estimation techniques or improving your testing process. Practice individual reflection and team retrospectives to identify areas for improvement and implement changes as necessary.

6. Invest in training

Provide opportunities for team members to learn new skills or technologies to help them work more efficiently or effectively. Continuous learning encourages innovation and helps keep your team engaged and motivated.



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Embracing velocity in agile project management

Velocity is a powerful planning and forecasting tool that measures what a scrum team accomplishes in an iteration based on the numerical values assigned to their work.

While team velocity has limitations, it can be a valuable metric for teams when used correctly and with the right mindset. The primary objective of a team leader should be to create a sustainable pace of work where each team member understands their contribution and is committed to the overall team's success.

By focusing on creating a culture of continuous improvement, open communication, and collaboration, teams can use velocity to identify areas for improvement and drive project success!