Flight Levels and Metrics

A couple of years ago, I introduced a two-dimensional model for thinking about how to measure software-delivery teams’ health and fitness-for-purpose. In the ensuing time, I’ve realized that the two dimensions — delivery aspect (product and service) and perspective (internal and external/customer) were insufficient for organizations looking to connect beyond the team level.

Fortunately, a model for higher-level alignment and improvement already existed: Klaus Leopold’s Flight Levels. And as I’ve increasingly used this model, the third dimension of my metrics framework came into focus: level. And that has brought me to what I and some dad-joking client friends are calling the “rubrics cube” of metrics. Don’t worry: It’s a much better tool than a pun.

“The Rubrics Cube”

This framework for measurement consists of three dimensions:

  • Delivery Aspect: Product/What, Service/How
  • Perspective: Internal/Provider, External/Customer
  • Level: Team/Operational, Program/Coordination, Portfolio/Strategy

The dimensions are meant to cover most areas of concern to stakeholders. For instance, a product team cares about its own internal health in terms of how they’re working, so they might track team engagement (which would be a metric in the upper left of the purple slice). A portfolio manager would likely care about the collective return on investment of a portfolio of products (which would be in the lower right of the royal-blue slice). A delivery manager might want to know when a product — whose work spans multiple teams — will be done (which would be in the upper right light-blue section). 

Team/Operational Level (Purple section)

The purple section deals with delivery-team or operational-level concerns. This is typically the level at which a product team, including roles like scrum master and product owner, works.

Program/Coordination (Light-Blue section)

The light-blue section deals with program or end-to-end coordination-level concerns. This is typically the level at which management, including project managers and product managers, works.

Portfolio/Strategy (Royal-Blue section)

The royal-blue section deals with portfolio or strategy-level concerns. This is typically the level at which highest-level leadership, including executives and strategic vision-setters, works.

As Klaus notes in describing flight levels, “at Flight Level 2 and 3, it isn’t about the board. The system represents the points of communication.” Accordingly, the measurements we use at those levels should do the same, communicating information that allows leaders to make better decisions that are aligned all the way to top-level strategy.

I’ve found the cube to be useful insofar as it gives a variety of stakeholders, most of whom have their own “view” onto the organization, a language for describing what’s important to them. We can now talk about “what they care about” using the terms of the three dimensions, which seem to resonate with them.

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