Most businesses have a core metric they follow. “Units sold” is a great one for many types of businesses. For other businesses, it might be revenue. For a non-profit it might be whales saved.
What is the core metric for software, then?
Well, in some cases it can just as well be “units sold”. This usually applies to commercial software, though, such as games, iOS apps, or WordPress plugins. For a SaaS business, it might be subscriptions sold, or revenue.
But what if you work on software that supports some other kind of business? Maybe your software handles payroll, logistics, data warehousing, or any other business support function, what’s your “units sold” metric?
Unfortunately, I think you probably don’t have one.
Most software serves a support role, and therefore is somewhat removed from the core business function. In fact, even in commercial software and SaaS businesses, most software in use at the company is in a support role.
There are some proxy metrics we often measure in such situations: Defect count, lead time, or even utterly terrible ones such as lines of code. But every one of these metrics can be misused, if it’s not the key business metric. Even the best metric can easily become a vanity metric.
For example: If we optimize lead time so much that we can get new features to customers in 15 seconds, but the features we’re pushing out don’t affect the number of units the main business sells, it’s a waste. So never let the key business metric too far out of sight.