Our accumulated experience allows us to detect traits, characteristics, and patterns that repeat themselves, even in workgroups with the highest performance levels. Before diving into this issue, a consensus must be reached about what we mean by “efficiency”. According to the objectives proposed, a pragmatic definition would be: “capacity to adequately perform and complete a function in a given amount of time”. But this is not merely wishful thinking: it is essential to establish metrics. As British physicist and mathematician William Thomson Kelvin said, “if you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it”.

The importance of KPIs

That is why we must agree on a definition of KPI (Key Performance Indicators) at the start of the process. It is not about finding isolated metrics but rather about finding a set of values related to the project’s objective: complying with the roadmap that has been drawn up, getting specific financial results for the company, and surpassing particular quality standards.

Each KPI must have a name, an objective, a period, a result, an owner, a target, and a series of associated decisions. The following step is taking these KPIs to a dashboard and making them available to all the parties involved so that decisions are taken according to results.

All the persons who the KPIs will evaluate should be aware of the situation and even know the criteria by which performance will be evaluated. They should even be a part of the decision-making team and of structuring the metrics to generate a generalized awareness of objectives and the steps we need to retrace to reach the objectives and increase the feeling of ownership of each member of the team.

The zero iteration

How do we prevent our team members from feeling exhausted? What do we do to avoid having too many members in the team, with each of them having too much idle time? In both cases, it is a question of striking a balance based on the client’s needs which –in the case of Making Sense– are analyzed in-depth during the discovery stage. The purpose is to get to know the client, understand its motivations and requirements and, at the same time, make it understand what the developer can do and draw up the first guidelines for the project. Precisely, one of the outputs of discovery is determining the initial composition of the team.

This is the moment before zero iteration (i.e., once the structure and identity of the team are already defined and the work method has been established; in our case, that would be the agile manifesto). The keyword when deciding the composition of the team is –as I mentioned before– “balance”. The different roles must be covered (product manager, user-experience developer –UX–, UX leader, backend and frontend experts, quality managers, managers of manual and automatic testing). At the same time, the seniority structure of the team should be diverse. If all the team members have too much experience, it might be challenging to reach a consensus.

The story points

The next step is establishing the story points. The minimum possible work unit involves the whole team. This makes it possible to identify the complexity, the time, and the effort of each story point to determine how many members it should have. The results are multiplied by the number of units that each iteration will take to agree on the “compromise”: the team’s comfort zone to attain the objectives drawn up in that sprint.

The members of the team take the risk of not making it. If that happens, when starting the following iteration, the team should consider that, in addition to the corresponding compromise, the previous one will have to be carried over. The sense of ownership mentioned above now plays a key role: in the same way that every member thinks they own the project and deserve credit when things go well, they will also have to accept the risk and responsibility if they go wrong.

If the carryover becomes a constant, then corrective actions will have to be taken: reducing the compromise, rebalancing seniority, or even changing the team’s composition. On the contrary, if the objectives are met in every sprint, we are looking at a high-performing team.

Leadership and skills

What characterizes the leader of an efficient team? That leader is the one who overcomes bad results, finds a new twist to move ahead, and never loses sight of the fact that it is all about delivering added value to the client.

The leaders of well-performing teams are usually innate –not imposed– and are characterized by their skills for negotiating, communicating, organizing, guiding the team toward obtaining results, and having a broad view of the business. They also understand when one of the members does not fulfill an objective because they have undergone a difficult personal situation. The leader is compassionate and empathetic and permanently bets on the development of the team members’ careers.

Product efficiency

The result of an efficient team’s work is a quality product, delivered in full and on time, within the established budgetary limits. The product must meet the client’s expectations, the quality standards required, and, in a way, improve the quality of life of end-users.

The final (and fundamental) point to determine if a team is efficient is whether the team can learn from its mistakes and improve with every new attempt.