Individual Performance in Agile Team, Assessment and Individual Burndown Charts

Every few months, on almost any discussion thread on Agile, the issue of assessing individual performance, individual assessment, checking how each person is performing, how to identify whether someone is performing well or bad, how to do appraisals etc. Most people respond by saying that at the heart of these discussions is “desire to control as well as fear of not being able to channelize”.  Some of the posts where authors have taken this viewpoint are Review Process for Agile Team Member, Aboloshing Performance Appraisals and Performance Management Trouble. I will not take this viewpoint in this post. I will tackle the issue from the standpoint that yes there is a problem – there is an erring employee and now you need to take action.

One of the key things with this premise [there is an erring employee] is to be factually correct as well as appear to be correct. The first is most often dealt with by clearing to an appraisee the expectations from someone and sometimes this being done in the writing, along with effective methods of measuring the performance as per these expectations. The problem in this generally is “the communication”. Managers are generally myopic in what the expectations from people are – they will lay down expectations which result in a person aiming for personal brownie points rather than help the team grow or becomes just too much of a good samaritan, almost not growing himself/ herself. The challenge in an Agile [or even any team] is to achieve this balance. Hence, your expectations would be a mix of individual as well as team behavior. Once this is achieved, the next challenge is to get the team member to agree to your expectations. There is always “Either you agree or you go strategy” – you can leverage this only if you feel you have drafted fair expectations and the employee is lowering standards unreasonably. Once the buy in is there are your expectations are clear and accepted, the bigger challenge awaits – collecting data. The best data is the one you collect automatically, and not one which others enter in spreadsheets. This truly becomes a challenge as machine collected data is easy to fake and often throws a challenge for users to fudge and overcome. In this scenario, the next best bet is to use Jeff Sutherlands technique. Basically, tweak the 360 degree feedback for something better and meaningful.

If you can get both the above points going, it would be transparent as clean air on who is performing and who is not or better still who is an asset and who is not. Now you have two options : firing or improvement. I personally try the latter. This means you have to really get to the heart of the situation on why someone is performing bad [what parameters the score is bad on leads you to this further analysis]. Once someone is beyond repair, either they would have got the hint already or you then just need to do the needful.

All things said and done, I believe and my own experience suggests that there is a better technique to manage individual and team performance and I call it SCO technique : Small Team, Close Team, Open Team.

  • Small Team : Not more than 9 people, manager but does not manage 99% of time
  • Close Team : The team generally works free of interference from outside environment
  • Open Team : You can sense when there is a problem and discuss it openly

Managers know better about people in this case and you can have a heart to heart talk and decide future course of action in this scenario. But this is not without its problems : people can sometimes become so close that they can not make the distinction between their relation and their work. Its funny how this is also the crux of Bhagavad Gita – you should know what is your karma and do it, not allowing anything you long for or love to interfere. If the team and particularly the manager is able to follow this, this is a good model. My guess is most people are not strong enough or evolved enough to follow this – hence, they keep a distance, not let go and hide behind setting expectations and measuring them.

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