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.


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