I read an interesting coverage of the soccer match in which Russia performed exceptionally well in the World Cup Soccer 2018. The article observed ‘Russisa entered the tournament with the lowest rating of 70. But in team sports rating does not really mean much’. This comment caught my attention and I started to think does it also apply to Agile teams? After some thinking I thought it does and I have seen teams that were not performing so well showing substantial improvements over one or two sprints suddenly. There could be various reasons for that but I would like to discuss a bit on how teams are assessed based on my experience and can they be rated etc.

Agile Maturity Assessment

Most companies would like their Agile Teams to undergo some kind of assessment to measure where they are in the maturity journey. There are complicated tools in the market which capture all kinds of information and do a lot of analysis and come out with various metrics etc. There is also a practice of rating Agile teams in some companies.

Despite the fact that the assessment is in reality a self assessment of the teams, the data is being used to arrive at some kind of a rating for the teams and in some cases even for business units comprising several Agile teams!

Let me explain what I have seen (and sometimes have also got involved in!)

  1. The first thing that is done in assessments is identifying the areas in which the performance or adoption of practices of teams is assessed. Let us say, Release Management, Product Owner role, Ceremonies such as Stand Ups, Sprint Planning and so on.
  2. In each of these areas, a set of questions are formed to identify what the team is practicing and to what level. For eg. In case of Stand Ups – whether team members report to Scrum Master, whether team carries on with Stand Ups even in absence of Scrum Master and so on. Similarly in other areas to know how well the team has adopted these aspects.
  3. For each of the questions identified, three or more levels of adoption are identified. For eg. In case of Stand Ups, Team carries on with Stand Ups even in absence of Scrum Master, four levels can be ‘Never’, ‘Sometimes’, ‘Often’, ‘Always’ and so on. This gives some indication of how mature and consistent the team is in adopting this practice. Same way the levels are identified for other questions.
  4. Now depending on how a team assesses itself, the outcome would be a number for each question of each practice area. In case of Stand Ups for eg., they could assess themselves as being at level 3. So if we look at the levels in all the areas and take an average, it could yield an overall rating for the team.

I don’t really know if such a rating makes sense! But it is possible to arrive at such a rating and I have seen that it is being done in companies.

What do we do with the rating?

Now comes the next question. What do we do with this rating?

The main purpose of assessment of Agile teams is to identify improvements at a larger level so that teams can keep moving up the maturity curve. When such assessments are done quarterly, say, teams can get an idea how they are progressing and they can focus on specific areas for improvement.

For management though, it could be useful to know the areas where teams need their help. If many teams are at a lower level in some areas, management can bring in huge improvements at an organization level by working on those areas.

That said, the rating can also be used to challenge teams to aim higher.

All these could have different effects on teams. Motivation in some teams might get affected and hinder their progress if in successive quarters their rating is low. This could be a big blocker for successful Agile adoption. Management should be careful to avoid this from happening. This is where the fact that rating does not really matter so much in team events can be used effectively to motivate teams.

Rating is not the end all

Why rating is not so important is because I have seen teams transforming over one sprint, at least in some practices. It is like winning one match making all the difference for a Soccer team! That too if the opponents are a strong team! That was clear looking at the performance of Russian Soccer team at the World Cup. In the same way I think Agile teams also can transform overnight if they focus on their goal. Identifying their weak points and addressing just some of them can bring about a lot of change in a team.There are many aspects which might affect the rating of a team despite having great potential to perform such as:

  • Not getting enough challenging work– teams get demotivated and skip StandUps, Retrospectives and so on
  • Becoming complacent and not following Agile principles
  • Team work not getting recognized – would lead to loss of motivation
  • There could be some dysfunctions in the team such as absence of trust
  • Lack of trust in leadership
  • So on…

Assessments do indicate many aspects and Leadership team can learn a lot about them. The leadership team should be clear about the purpose of such assessments and how to conduct them in fair manner and can also learn to use the outcome of such assessments to the benefit of teams and organization. But that would be another topic and for another day!

I have just touched upon a broad and important topic here and put down my thoughts. Would love to hear your experiences and views on this topic!