Agility test: speed vs velocity

A while ago I posted the translation for a quick verification of whether your work environment uses an Agile mindset.

Here is another quick test, this time focusing on Scrum but referring to two tools that aren't directly part of the Scrum framework: velocity and sizing.

The gist of it is that backlog items can be sized in order to help the team streamline the process of including backlog items into new sprints. Velocity is the size of backlog items done at the end of the sprint (which can be helpful later on).

Now, the test consists of a simple question: why is this measurement called velocity and not speed? After all, you are doing work over a period of time. That fits the definition of speed, right? How fast you can develop, right? How fast you can 'deliver' work, right?

Well, there's a problem with speed in the context of Scrum. Scrum isn't focused on delivering fast or on purely quantitative measures (generally speaking). Scrum focuses on defining value. While value might sound abstract (and it is when given as part of a generic definition), when a new project starts you should try to graze the surface of what value means. When you do work, you shouldn't do work aimlessly but directed at outputting value as needed by the project.

Spee*d is an aimless measure. *Speed doesn't care about where it's pointed at. Contrast that with velocity which is a vectorial measurement. Velocity is speed, but with a given direction. If I want to go right, but I don't go straight to the right, the deviation will hamper my movement and velocity accounts for that.

The direction that is the vector in velocity accounts for the goal defined in every Scrum sprint. It gives direction to the team and purpose to the sprint. If you don't meet the goal (as defined, perhaps including all sorts of guidelines like DoDs and whatnot) then your velocity is lower, even if you've developed with speed. Work done that doesn't contribute to the potentially deliverable increment isn't counted towards the velocity (even if it may act as a boost to the next sprint).

This is a subtle but relevant difference that illustrates the Scrum mindset. The direction of every sprint has a spread meaning that accounts, among others, for the first question of the test, as well as the last. Focus on the work, do it while making sure it has a clear direction that is defined by value.