The only 2 KPIs that your delivery team should care about at an early-stage start-up

If you’re building a delivery team (Product + Engineering) there are two metrics that you should always be aware of to assess the health of your cycles. These metrics exist outside of your product metrics but gauge how effectively you can ship value to your customers.

Disclaimer: performance KPIs like these should always measure the team, not the individual.

You also don’t need to track these metrics. Especially at an early-stage startup. You should be able to know these metrics intuitively.

Lead Time

Less than 2 weeks

I define lead time as the time it takes for something to hit our project board and then make it into production. There’s a bit of wiggle room for personal preference, for example, often I’ll consider something complete even if it's hidden behind a feature flag. Others might not consider something complete until a customer can see it.

Either way, you should be aiming to get everything that hits your team to your definition of done within two weeks.

Anything that you think might take longer than that needs to be:

  • Reconsidered by the team OR
  • Broken down into several, smaller chunks

Effective lead time is tightly coupled with our next KPI because if you aren’t deploying a lot, then your work is constantly waiting to be finished.

Deploy frequency

Multiple times a day

The important thing about deploy frequency isn’t the actual number you are deploying (a mistake I’ve made in the past…) but your ability to deploy as many times as you want, without friction.

Deploys should:

  • Take about 5 minutes to finish.
  • Be a one-click or automated procedure.
  • Be rolled back in one click.
  • Not disrupt the customer experience.

When your deploy pipeline meets these expectations, you don’t have to worry about some of the metrics you might find at larger delivery organizations.

What about the other metrics? (velocity, uptime, defect rate, MTTR, etc)

You might find value in these, but I think anyone who prescribes to these at an early stage is missing the point of being early stage. The goal is to iterate rapidly, find product market fit, and get your business to the next goal.

It doesn’t matter how many tickets you ship, so long as you can ship them quickly.

If you have uptime or defect issues, then you aren’t deploying enough or you haven’t deployed enough to work through these issues.

I’ll have a lot more to talk about in regards to how to optimize these KPI’s in future articles!