Home > Articles > Software Development & Management > Agile

  • Print
  • + Share This
Like this article? We recommend How Do You Know You're Failing?

How Do You Know You're Failing?

The trick, of course, is to know when the project has gone off the rails. There's no definitive set of metrics, but one of the benefits of Agile is that, if you're paying attention, you can construct a decent set of signals that warn you when the project has gone off the rails. Let's consider some of these metrics.

You Never Go to Production

Stories abound of projects that seemed to be going well, with GANTT charts lining up every week showing good progress. In many cases, everything was fine until the product actually gets installed—and simply doesn't work. Perhaps the user experience turns out to be unacceptable, or the performance isn't good. Perhaps the product is very buggy, or it has security holes large enough to admit an armored truck. Regardless of the exact reason, many or most of the cases of $100M of investment leading to no software probably had a story that was in one of those buckets.

The golden rule is this: Make sure that you go to production well before you become too big to fail. If you can't get software representing a minimum viable product (MVP) into a user's hands prior to the investment level where an organization can't take the cost as an operational loss, you should probably cancel the project. This metric—getting an MVP prior to escape velocity—is something of a "north star" metric that I use to drive all other metrics about when to kill a project.

Unrealistic Burn-Up

Two kinds of burn-up charts make me very, very nervous (see Figure 1):

  • Highly volatile over a long period of time. High volatility is to be expected early in the project, as people ramp up and teams work through the "risky areas" first. However, if you're well past that point (for example, think sixth or seventh iteration), and your standard deviation of story points delivered per iteration is growing, it's hard to make the case that you have any kind of remotely predictable velocity. This is especially troubling if your average is below what you need (think numbers like 0, 10, 6, 20, 2, 15, when you really need to achieve 30 per iteration). Such situations tend to point not just to less-than-ideal estimates, but to other problems in the team that merit investigation.
  • No variation at all in velocity delivered. If the burn-up calls for 30 points per iteration, and the team is delivering exactly that, you might have a case of "Enron Story Point Accounting" on your hands. Few teams are so perfect in estimation, and so regular in delivery, that you will see no variation at all. Lack of variation usually points to more insidious problems in project management that might be very eager to tell you what you want to hear.

Figure 1 Points per iteration, two worrisome scenarios.

Generally, in a project that has properly ramped up and is delivering, you want to see a standard deviation in the "Goldilocks" zone—high enough to know that you aren't just being told what you want to hear, but not so high as to make velocity going forward impossible to estimate credibly.

Metric Deterioration - Internal Quality Loss

While some signs are visible that things are going horribly awry, hidden quality deterioration is a more insidious problem. Often this is the result of missing a velocity number a couple of times in a row, when pressure will come from on high to do anything possible to go faster. This pressure ultimately results in cutting corners for the sake of expediency. This loss of quality results in a short-term speed that has very high long-term costs.

Part of any good program-management regimen is establishing a balanced scorecard of internal quality metrics that sits side by side with the burn-up chart. This can't just be one metric, such as code coverage, as that's achievable by sacrificing other metrics or just writing low-quality tests. Ideally, you need a collection of metrics, such as instability index and cyclomatic complexity, collected over a span of time so you can compare them to velocity over time. If you see that you have an inverse relationship between your quality metrics and velocity, that's a giant red flag.

One more useful metric—and this one is harder to fake—is the span of time between when a bug is found and when it's resolved. One way that information about internal quality loss tends to leak is that bugs start taking longer to fix. While this isn't itself proof positive that you have a failing project, it's usually a good sign that something else is wrong. It could be that developers just aren't prioritizing bug-fixing work, or it could be a "canary in the coal mine" of what the maintenance experience will be like down the road. If you consistently see bugs that persist from one iteration to the next, it behooves you to find out why.

In general, internal quality loss may not affect your ability to get to the first release. But the costs of low internal quality certainly will impact later releases. Maintainability isn't just an issue for people down the road—most large programs that turn into $100M+ disasters have initial charters that go beyond an initial release. Maintainability isn't abstract for such projects—it can be a time bomb that obscures problems until you reach escape velocity.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020