How & Why to Measure Sprint Velocity

Last updated on
September 22, 2023


What is sprint velocity?

Sprint velocity is a metric used in agile software development to measure the amount of work a team can complete in a single sprint.

Why to measure sprint velocity?

Measuring sprint velocity provides valuable insights into a team's productivity, helps with capacity planning, and allows for better predictability in delivering software increments.

How to measure sprint velocity?

At the end of the sprint, sum up the story points (or other estimation units) of all the completed user stories. This total is the team's velocity for that sprint.

Scroll down to unlock the secrets of sprint velocity, understand its impact on agile projects, and discover the practical steps to measure and harness its power effectively.


How & Why to Measure Sprint Velocity


Tracking progress and team performance is crucial in software development but can be challenging without the right metrics. Without sprint velocity, your team may lack visibility into their progress and performance, leading to difficulties in tracking their productivity and making informed decisions. 

Measuring sprint velocity leads to identifying bottlenecks, accurately forecasting project timelines, and optimizing their workflow, potentially resulting in efficiencies in delivering value to stakeholders.

Learn how to measure sprint velocity accurately, and explore the benefits and risks associated with relying on this metric.

What is sprint velocity?

Sprint velocity is a software development metric that helps teams measure progress in an agile project. It's all about measuring how much work your team can accomplish within a sprint. It tells you how many user stories or tasks your team can reliably complete and deliver in a given timeframe.

It's crucial to note that sprint velocity is not a measure of individual productivity or performance. It reflects your team's collective effort and how much work they can reliably complete as a unit. Agile development places a strong emphasis on collaboration and teamwork, and sprint velocity aligns with this principle.

Sprint velocity is not a static metric. It can change over time as the team matures, gains experience, or faces different project circumstances. It's normal for velocity to fluctuate, and that's why it's important to track it consistently and use it as a tool for continuous improvement.

Benefits of improving sprint velocity

Improving sprint velocity can have several benefits for your software development team and company overall. Here are five of them:

Enhanced predictability

Improving sprint velocity allows your team to establish a reliable track record of how much work they can complete in each sprint. By consistently achieving higher velocities, you gain a clearer understanding of your team's capacity and can better predict how much work can be accomplished in future sprints. 

Increased efficiency

As you focus on improving sprint velocity, your team naturally strives to become more efficient. By analyzing past sprints and identifying areas for improvement, you can identify bottlenecks, streamline processes, and eliminate unnecessary steps. This continuous drive for efficiency boosts productivity, reduces waste, and ultimately helps deliver software faster and more effectively.

Better resource management

When you focus on sprint velocity, you gain valuable insights into your team's resource utilization. By understanding how much work can be completed within a sprint, you can allocate resources more effectively. This knowledge helps you avoid overloading team members with excessive work or leaving them with idle time. 

Agile adaptability

Agile methodologies emphasize adaptability and responsiveness to change. By paying attention to sprint velocity, you consistently deliver work within sprints, you have the flexibility to adjust project scope, prioritize tasks, and respond to customer feedback promptly. This adaptability ensures that your software remains relevant and aligned with evolving needs.

Team morale and collaboration

Improving sprint velocity fosters a positive team dynamic. When your team consistently achieves or surpasses their goals, it boosts morale and creates a sense of accomplishment. This sense of achievement encourages collaboration, trust, and a shared commitment to success. 

Risks of focusing on sprint velocity

While measuring sprint velocity can provide valuable insights, it's important to be aware of potential risks and limitations. Here are five risks to consider when basing decisions solely on sprint velocity results:

Sacrificing quality

When the sole focus is on improving sprint velocity, there's a risk of compromising the quality of the software being developed. Your teams might rush through tasks, skip important testing phases, or neglect essential refinements to meet velocity targets. This trade-off can lead to a decrease in customer satisfaction, increased technical debt, and potential long-term problems for the product.

Ignoring complexity

Sprint velocity primarily measures the completion of user stories or tasks within a sprint. However, it fails to account for the complexity and variability of work items. Your team may inadvertently prioritize simpler or low-value items to inflate their velocity, neglecting more critical and complex tasks. This approach can result in a skewed view of progress and hinder the overall success of the product.

Neglecting learning and innovation

An excessive focus on improving sprint velocity can discourage experimentation, learning, and innovation within the team. Instead of exploring new approaches, technologies, or solutions, your team members may feel pressured to stick with familiar methods that guarantee quick completion

Disregarding customer value

While sprint velocity provides insights into your team's productivity, it doesn't inherently measure customer value or satisfaction. Relying solely on velocity may result in a lack of customer-centric decision-making. Delivering a higher quantity of features or tasks doesn't guarantee that the most valuable and impactful ones are being prioritized. 

Undermining collaboration and empowerment

Fixation on sprint velocity can undermine the principles of collaboration and empowerment in agile development. Your team members may feel pressured to work individually and prioritize personal contributions over shared success. This approach erodes the collaborative spirit that agile teams thrive upon. 

How to measure sprint velocity?

Measuring sprint velocity is a straightforward process that will help your team track progress in an agile project. Here’s how to measure it: 

Set a measurement unit

Start by deciding on a measurement unit that represents the work completed in a sprint. It can be user stories, tasks, or any other relevant unit that reflects the team's effort.

Define the sprint duration

Determine the duration of your sprints. Typically, sprints last between one to four weeks, with two weeks being a common choice.

Plan and execute sprints

During each sprint, the team commits to completing a set of work items. These can be user stories representing features or tasks representing specific activities.

Track completed work

At the end of each sprint, calculate the total number of work items successfully completed and delivered. For example, let's say in Sprint 1, your team completed 7 user stories, and in Sprint 2, they completed 5 user stories and 3 tasks.

Calculate sprint velocity

To calculate sprint velocity, sum up the total number of completed work items across all sprints. In our example, the total completed work would be 7 + 5 + 3 = 15 items.

Calculate average velocity

Divide the total completed work by the number of sprints to obtain the average velocity. In our example, with 15 items completed over 2 sprints, the average velocity would be 15 / 2 = 7.5 items per sprint.

Track and analyze velocity over time

Keep a record of the calculated velocities for each sprint. Analyze the trends to identify patterns or improvements in velocity over time. This analysis helps you understand your team's performance and provides insights for future planning and decision-making.

For instance, if your team consistently achieves a velocity of 7.5 items per sprint, you can use it as a baseline for future planning and forecasting. However, it's important to note that velocity can fluctuate due to various factors such as team composition, complexity of work, and external dependencies. Continuously tracking and analyzing velocity helps you identify these factors and make informed adjustments.

Alternatives to sprint velocity 

When it comes to measuring progress in agile software development, sprint velocity is a widely used metric. However, it's important to explore alternative options that can provide additional insights and complement the understanding of your team's performance. Let's delve into a few main alternatives: 

Lead time

Lead time measures the duration it takes for a work item to move from the start to the completion of a sprint. It focuses on the elapsed time and provides a holistic view of the end-to-end process. It is useful when you want to understand the overall efficiency and time-to-market of your team's work.

Choose lead time when:

  • You want to analyze and optimize the full workflow and identify areas of improvement.
  • You need to measure the time it takes for a work item to be delivered to the customer.
  • You want to track the impact of process changes or optimization efforts on the time it takes to complete work items.

Cycle time

Cycle time focuses on the time it takes for a work item to move through the development process, excluding waiting or queue time. It measures the actual time spent on development, testing, and deployment activities. It provides a more granular understanding of the development process. 

Choose cycle time when:

  • You want to identify and address bottlenecks or delays within the development process.
  • You need to measure and optimize the time it takes for work items to move through specific stages, such as development or testing.
  • You want to analyze the impact of process changes on the efficiency of specific development activities.

Cumulative flow diagram (CFD)

A cumulative flow diagram tracks the number of work items in different stages of the development process over time. It provides a visual representation of the flow of work and helps identify any imbalances or blockages in the process. CFD can be used in conjunction with sprint velocity to gain a deeper understanding of the team's progress and potential areas for improvement.

Choose cumulative flow diagram when:

  • You want a visual representation of work item distribution across different stages of the development process.
  • You need to identify bottlenecks, queuing, or delays in specific stages of the workflow.
  • You want to track the flow of work and analyze its stability and predictability.

Earned value management (EVM)

Earned value management is a technique that integrates scope, cost, and schedule to assess project performance. It involves measuring and comparing planned value (the value of work planned to be completed) with earned value (the value of work actually completed) to determine if the project is on track. 

Choose earned value management when:

  • You want to measure the value of completed work in relation to the planned value.
  • You need to assess project performance based on both scope and schedule.
  • You want to identify if the project is ahead or behind schedule based on the earned value.

Next steps

Sprint velocity provides valuable insights for optimizing efficiency and predictability in agile projects.

To further enhance your understanding of metrics in software development, explore our articles on software delivery performance metrics, process metrics, and software quality metrics. By leveraging these resources, you'll be empowered to compose a tailored set of metrics for your product with ease.

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Olga Gierszal
Software Engineering Editor

Software development enthusiast with 6 years of professional experience in the tech industry.

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