The Million Dollar Question – How to Perform Team Appraisals in an Agile Scrum Environment

A job well done deserves a proper reward, right? But in collaborative engagements such as agile development, can one single out individual efforts without killing the team’s morale and productivity?

How many of us can with truth state that our performance appraisals were done with the required justice as needed and required … For most of us appraisals is only a means to increase the take home, Is that the true meaning of appraisals, I have for always yearned that my bosses would do justice in appraisals, in helping me understand how to improve and be a better contributor to the system, the bottomline , a better team player and a more organized person, that will have all the qualities of being a good human being … But alas … it is a dream still to be fulfilled.

When it comes time to divvy up the pie, can justice ever be served? Or will your team members be left with lurch?  There is no greater de-motivator than a reward system that is perceived to be unfair. It doesn’t matter if the system is fair or not. If there is a perception of unfairness, then those who think that they have been treated unfairly will rapidly lose their motivation. People perceive unfairness when they miss out on rewards they think they should have shared. What if the vice president had given one team member of the agile team or a Scrum Master a big reward but not rewarded the team? Even if Scrum Master had acknowledged the hard work of his team members, they would probably have felt that he was profiting at their expense. You can be sure that Scrum Master would have had a difficult time generating enthusiasm for work on the next release, even if the evaluation issues had not surfaced.

How many a times, do we get an opportunity to tell our managers, Scrum Master (I am talking about the real world and not the theory) , that we could not perform due to inefficiencies at their end? Do we ever get any chance to letting out managers know, how are they performing and how their performance and behaviour is impacting our performance and we are not able to meet our targets.

Let’s assume that the team was given a non-negotiable list of features that had to be done by a non-negotiable deadline, and let’s further speculate that the team was 100 percent positive that the deadline was impossible. (Remember this is hypothetical; surely this would never happen in real life.) Finally, let’s pretend that the team members were promised a big bonus if they met the deadline. There are two things that could happen in this scenario. Financial incentives are powerful motivators, so there is a chance that the team might have found a way to do the impossible. However, the more likely case is that the promise of a bonus that was impossible to achieve would make the team cynical, and the team would be even less motivated to meet the deadline than before the incentive was offered. When people find management exhorting them to do what is clearly impossible rather than helping to make the task possible, they are likely to be insulted by the offer of a reward and give up without even trying.

In most organizations, significant salary gains come from promotions that move people to a higher salary grade, not from merit increases. Where promotions are not available, as is the case for many teachers, merit pay systems have a tendency to become contentious, because merit increases are the only way to make more money. When promotions are available, employees tend to ignore the merit pay system and focus on the promotion system. Of course, this system of promotions tends to encourage people to move into management as they run out of promotional opportunities in technical areas. Companies address this problem with “dual ladders” that offer management-level pay scales to technical gurus.

Conventional wisdom says that people should be evaluated based on results that are under their control. However, evaluating individual results, rather than group results, creates competition rather than collaboration among the team members. In order to encourage collaboration, make sure that its profit-sharing formula rewards relatively large teams, not just the individuals or small groups who have direct responsibility for an area. While monetary rewards can be a powerful driver of behavior, the motivation they provide is not sustainable. Once people have an adequate income, motivation comes from things such as achievement, growth, control over one’s work, recognition, advancement, and a friendly working environment. No matter how good your evaluation and reward system may be, don’t expect it to do much to drive stellar performance over the long term

Think about target setting this way: if you know what someone will produce, what is the point of setting a target. If you don’t know, what is the point of setting a target? Gamble management? If set to low, there is definitive under achievement. If set too high, failure or unsustainable efforts are the only options. Long ago, Deming warned managers of target setting through his 11th point of leadership: “Eliminate numerical goals, numerical quotas and management by objectives. Substitute leadership.”

In individual appraisals, the ‘team’ are the boss and his/her subordinate. The boss’ focus of an appraisal should switch from the traditional “How are you performing for me?” to, “How can we work better together?”. The idea is that, the appraisal is about doing things that make the relationship between the boss and subordinate better and allowing the subordinate to appraise themselves. What do they need to do to make their input more valuable and what do they need from their boss?

This could be in terms of more training, guiding, coaching, tutoring or it could also be in terms of their relationship “I need you involved more in what I’m doing.” or “Help coach me on estimation”. The subordinate should talk about how they’re going to make the relationship better and the boss should reply with “How are you going to do these things and, more specifically, how can I help you do that?”. This also has the benefit of reinforcing the Stop, Start, Continue idea of appraising your boss.

Managing People in an Imperfect Agile Scrum Team

Managing people isn’t easy thing whatever process you use. With Agile processes putting explicit emphasis on people and interactions it is even more important.

Agile Scrum is a team empowerment framework. Scrum is an agile product management process that is based on the clear separation of what’s and how’s – Product Owner is responsible for what’s, the development team is responsible for how’s. This clear separation puts big bet on the team’s ability to self-organize and figure out what exactly process and practices are best for it.

In my practice I’ve seen teams that gelled successfully, communicated with their customers frequently and were indeed able to self organize to whatever was needed for the frequent delivery of good software wanted by the customers. However, I also experienced teams that are struggling despite the credit from management. Their Product Owner (or Product Owner teams) were able to fix the product priorities for a sprint, they did explicitly tell that they want less features and more quality, they did allow their teams to work on architecture as much as they needed and still the quality wasn’t on par with the expectations. The testers tested according to the scripts (and not according to what the user might want do), POs often were able to find obvious bugs during the sprint review demos, etc. Despite all the trust credit these teams just didn’t self-organize.

Self-organization rarely happens on its own. Self-organization requires a common goal, boundaries and knowledge of some simple rules. Learning the self-organized team behaviors takes time and determination. The whole team has to walk a path from novice to an expert and needs different styles of support from directing to delegating. A good Scrum Master or decent Agile coach rarely if ever tells the team to do whatever they want from the day one of the Agile adoption. Learning the new way of working takes time and in the very beginning the amount of guidance might be even bigger, than in the world of command & control. Coach just has to be clear that it is temporary and is needed only because the team is new to the process.

Scrum is an excellent process that suites many teams and by empowering them can lead to the truly amazing results even under the tough conditions. However, the ability to utilize high level of empowerment and self-organization isn’t something to be developed overnight. It is something to nurture and to care about.

May be some team will never ever be self-organized no matter how long they will work together and how many agile / lean coaches they will meet? Is it something like marriage. Isn’t is that some people work together pretty well and some other combination actually suck. It’s all about people, no training could change people’s characters and I think personally that finding a good agile team is difficult and if you find one you should treat it like a precious stone

Some people tell me that “you cannot motivate a person“. You can only “remove the impediments that prevent a person from being motivated”. Or, in other words, “you can only eliminate demotivation“.

Can you make a person happy?

Or

can you only eliminate the things that make her unhappy?

Can you make a person laugh? Or can you only eliminate the things that make him cry?

These sound like silly questions. But I have been told a number of times now that trying to motivate people is a bad idea. Yet, I simply could not imagine this to be true, given the fact that it is quite possible to (try to) make people happy, or to (try to) make them laugh. You cannot motivate a person by “eliminating demotivation”. Only taking away the things that make people dissatisfied, will simply result in people having neutral feelings towards their jobs. But that’s not enough. You also have to introduce things that motivate them.

Feedback, communication, and motivation are key factors in three Agile Manifesto principles that lend themselves to successful project team collaboration

Feedback

How does feedback work in a team environment? What is the most successful way to deliver it on an Agile project? Remember that feedback during the iterative development work of an Agile project must increase awareness and insight as well as foster innovation, yielding positive alternatives. Having the business as part of the core Agile project team creates the environment for continuous feedback and an opportunity to take positive risks in doing things differently, which is the very nature of why the project is being done in an Agile setting. Within the iteration work, it is essential to provide feedback that:

  • Contains a clear purpose
  • Is specific and descriptive
  • Offers positive alternatives

For all members of the Agile project team, it is important to identify what to start, stop, and continue doing when it comes to iteration work. This is where effective feedback is most often used. You can easily integrate these practices into your daily stand up meetings to prepare for the day’s work.

Communications

What makes effective communication? When it comes to communication, it is important to deliver information in a manner that is understood by the receiver, which means that we need to get past the receiver’s filters and ensure that the individual understood the intended message. To get past those filters, we, as the sender of this message, have a responsibility to understand how our receiver takes in information. Does he communicate in a direct manner? Is she considerate in her messaging? Understanding your receiver’s communication style will help you provide feedback that enables effective dialogue.

Motivation

When you combine productive feedback with effective communication, the foundation for motivation has been established. Motivation is built on encouragement, partnership, and compromise without making concessions that damage trust. Working together to ensure that barriers, impediments, and unrealistic expectations do not derail the creative impulses of the team brings about team unity. When the Agile PM delegates to team members the authority and responsibility to complete features to which they’ve committed, the Agile PM has created an environment of trust, partnership, and self-directedness. By creating this environment, the team can discover their patterns of working.

The soft side of Agile is just as important as the technical side of Agile. Both sets of skills are required and dependent upon each other for success in the Agile Scrum environment. Given what you just read, ask yourself, how soft is your Agile Scrum team?