Productivity: Team Velocity

This is part 3 of our series on Productivity, previous segments are available in our archives.

Yesterday we covered some high level metrics of productivity, but all of them lack the precision you want to truly optimize productivity. Today we’ll cover a more powerful tool which is team Velocity. It is a measurement technique originally developed for agile software development but applicable to most functions in your company.

To measure your Velocity, first you need to break down your productivity into set periods of time (one week, two weeks, one month, etc.) and compile a list of all the tasks you want to complete in that time. For each task, assign it a score based on how long you estimate it will take to complete. Some people estimate the number of hours, others assign “points” which are a relative measure of difficulty. Whatever you use, you should end up with a chart of tasks that looks like the following:

Tasks for Party Planning, 12/1-12/7

Task Score (estimated)
Bake Cake 2 hours
Select Music 3 hours
Arrange Decorations 8 hours


This score estimation is important to help normalize smaller, easier tasks and larger, more complex tasks. You don’t want to measure the number of tasks complete, you want to measure the amount of effort exerted!

You can add up the scores for all your tasks that are “To Do” and that is your estimated effort for the time period you selected. As you complete tasks, their score is take from the “To Do” total and moved to the “Done” total. The difference between these two totals allows you to chart your task completion velocity on what is called a Burn Down chart. An example is below:Burn Down Chart

As you can see, over time the amount of work “To Do” goes down in steps as tasks are completed. If you were uniformly productive every hour of every day, your progress would follow the diagonal, ideal task completion line where you complete the same task total everyday. However, the real world rarely works that way so you will have many different curves to your work.

By looking at your burn down chart, you can detect productivity issues as they happen instead of waiting for the end of the period to find out. For example, these are some burn down charts that indicate some productivity problems.

Poor Task Estimation

Burn Down Chart - Poor Estimation

As you can see, task completion proceeds at a reliable rate but at the end of the iteration not all of the work is complete! This means the team did not properly estimate the difficulty of their tasks as they took longer than estimated.

Avoiding or Leaving Hard Tasks Until the End

Burn Down Chart - Procrastinate

In this example, the goal was reached but almost all tasks were completed at the end. This indicates a team that left much of the work until the last minute and possibly spent all night working to meet their deadline. While the deadline was met, this kind of process is not sustainable and prone to missing deadlines in the future.

The usefulness of your burn down charts depends heavily on how consistent you are in assigning scores to tasks. It can take a few tries before your team gets the hang of it, but once they do it is an invaluable tool for measuring your productivity!

Tomorrow we’ll start covering ways to be more productive, by focusing on how you manage your schedule.


Quote of the Day: “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” ― Stephen King