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Introduction

Agile principles and methods promote team working. Agile emphasizes the team’s success. Practicing agile methods in the right ways in organizations leads to high-performing teams.

On the other hand, there is an often talked about perceived concern. The concern is around the performance of the individuals in a team. Occasionally, I have experienced situations where one or a set of individuals showed a laid-back approach driven by a mindset that others would anyway be able to pull the team through. Nobody has spoken openly, but many times, I have sensed a bunch of thoughts crossing their mind – What is in it for me?  What do I get for the extra effort that I put in?  Why do I raise my performance bar if the reward is for the team and not me? “I work on stories in pair-programming or fractal constructs. How would my manager differentiate my performance from the performance of my peers?”.

On the other hand, several managers have asked me. Why do I need to set individual goals when the focus is on the performance of the team?   How do I identify the fast trackers?  How could I maintain the team spirit while still fairly differentiating between the above-par performers and below-par performers?  And then the million-dollar question- do I violate the spirit of Scrum by measuring individual performance in delivering work product?

Interestingly, these are some common questions/concerns raised by team members and leaders embarking on Agile transformation and adoption. These have also been a topic for opinions, arguments, and debate at Agile events. To me, the jury seems to be divided between individual goal setting to abandoning individual appraisals entirely.  And, of course, strong views are supporting these diverse positions.

My viewpoint

I find these questions and concerns valid. In my previous role as a delivery head, I practiced a balanced approach wherein the emphasis was on both team performance and individual performance and growth.  And this is what I advocate now as an Agile coach.

The approach should be to deploy a performance management framework that enables the organization to achieve its business goals aligning individual aspirations, goals, and effort. The framework must encompass business goals and priority, team goals aligned with the business goals, and individuals’ goals, actions, and behavior aligned to the team’s and business goals. Leaders could use the framework to set annual, quarterly, or monthly goals and objectives in discussions with teams to ensure alignment and clarity about the consequences of performing at, above, or below par. These practices would help individuals in understanding their goals and objectives and stimulate motivation and ownership.  Many global organizations have successfully reformed their performance management system by adopting similar approaches and are getting the desired results.

The next question could be about the parameters around which an individual performance could be measured. Institutionalizing Agile in organizations is the adoption of a set of practices encompassing toolset and mindset.  The toolset refers to the processes, events, artifacts, tools, and metrics. The mindset refers to the aspects of culture – values, shared vision, behavior, collaboration, self-organization, and facilitative leadership. Perhaps, the measures of the individual performance could be around “Living” the mindset aspects and individuals could be differentiated based on these traits. The key results could be set accordingly and potential rewards or consequences could be well aligned with these key results. Organizations should also make clear choices with employees who don’t actively live and exhibit the desired values, mindsets, and behavior.

A few examples of objectives that individuals could be assessed over an evaluation period.

●       Has the team member met his learning objectives?

●       How did the team member perform in removing the team’s impediments?

●       How has the team member contributed to continuous improvement initiatives within the Team (Kaizen)?

●       How much the team member adhered to the team’s working agreements (built around Scrum values)

●       Demonstration of positive energy, leadership aspect, problem-solving approach by the individual

Let’s respond to the question – “What is in it for me?”.  Agile nurtures an amplified learning environment and helps in developing a growth mindset. Working in a cross-functional team provides opportunities for individuals to develop T-shaped skills. Scrum events such as backlog grooming, technical swarming, and retro discussions help in developing a better understanding of the domain, identifying risks and defects early on, and faster removal of the impediments. All these learnings ultimately benefit individuals in their career growth.

How to measure?

Since these are soft aspects, their quantification is relatively difficult and should not be prescribed. Instead, the assessment could be based on the qualitative inputs collected frequently from the people who work with the individual every day. They are the ones who know the most about his/her contribution to the success of the team. e.g., the feedback about a team member could be gathered from the product owner, architect, and other members of the team that the individual worked with during the evaluation period. The team’s retro is a great event to capture contributions, initiatives, and Wow moments attributed to the individual. Since the retro board is accessible to all concerned, knowing that the world knows about his/her performance may act as a great motivator for the individual. 

Conclusion

Agile fosters a high-performing environment for both individuals and teams. The key task for the leaders is to deploy a simple, transparent, and effective framework for objective setting and evaluation, aligning individual aspirations with the organization’s goal.  The role and the expectation from the individual, the reward for the high performance, and the consequence for non-performance must be communicated to the individual. The message must be loud and clear that the team’s success is paramount and you succeed when the team succeeds.  On the other hand, Individuals must have faith in the system that there is always a reward – tangible or intangible for above-par performance. We must understand that Agile facilitates a highly collaborative environment, and what we do or don’t do gets noticed. And, our inaction can’t hide behind the success of the team.