Given the complexities of evaluating the productivity of Agile Scrum teams, some companies have pushed to omit performance reviews altogether. After all, Scrum emphasizes flexibility, variability, self-organizing, and team members signing up for tasks; trying to filter those attributes through a standardized performance review is sort of like trying to stick a water-drop to a wall with a nail and hammer. That being said, many companies still attempt to use those traditional methods to evaluate Scrum. If your workflow is Scrum-based, here’s how to best illustrate your achievements. Remember that a review is a chance to create a mutual understanding between managers and teams about performance, goals, and objectives—those team members being reviewed have a chance to educate their superiors on the development process. Some Scrum groups argue for more a frequent "checking-in," as opposed to the all-consuming single review; both methods have their advantages and drawbacks. Tirrell Payton, a certified Scrum coach and consultant, has noticed a common mistake among Scrum masters: Many think that, if they work to the best of their abilities, management will notice, and the review will take care of itself. That approach won't work for everyone.
Jointly Set Objectives
In ideal circumstances, preparing for a Scrum review should begin the moment a team member joins a firm. “If you are new to the role or new to the company,” Payton said, “one of the first things you need to do is sit down with your boss, go through your job description and jointly create performance objectives based on that position.” Those team members who’ve already been on the job a while, and understand the company’s organizational dynamics, should ask themselves what they need to accomplish during Scrum sprints in order to ace reviews (and lock down raises). Peyton noted that this forward-thinking strategy has significant benefits, as most managers won’t focus on the review until it is right on top of them: “They’ll likely have no idea what it will take to get you the highest reviews… This will work in your favor, because you can help craft those objectives.” Asking for more frequent evaluations is often a recipe for disaster, and not just because the rapid cadence can limit your ability to outline your objectives and prepare for a discussion. Kane Mar, co-founder of Scrumology, a Scrum-focused consultancy, has observed that frequent “check-in” reviews with a manager risk damaging a working relationship. “This is because of the power dynamic between the two parties,” he said. “The manager has more control, and the subordinate knows that they have to appease management to get a reward. This leads to political game playing between the two parties.”
Payton stressed the importance of keeping a detailed log that supports the execution of objectives. By not staying on track, he warned, you may wind up directing your energies towards the wrong targets. “You want to make sure you are focused on the items that will get you the best performance and feedback,” he said. “If you and your boss sat down and crafted performance goals, and you focused on achieving those aims, as well as [cataloging] the accomplishments aligned with them, you will be in a very good position.”
Solicit Interim Feedback
Actively soliciting interim feedback is a valuable strategy for all evaluations. Peers or team members are great sources for critiques. Once you remove the power dynamic between managers and team members, Mar said, “it becomes much easier to give and receive feedback which is constructive rather than political. A consequence of this is that it’s often seen as being more meaningful and is more likely to affect real change.” This approach works with managerial reviewers as well. Scrum masters and teams too often assume that the manager takes note of the goals they’ve met as the project progresses, which is rarely the actual case. “If you get a performance review once a year, you need to meet with your boss at least once per quarter,” Payton said. During the quarterly meetings, he also stressed, Scrum team members should focus on answering these three questions:
- Are the performance objectives still the same?
- Are there any areas that need improvement?
- Is there anything new that is a higher priority than the current objectives?
“It takes some getting used to,” Payton said, “but you will need to drive that transparency through interim dialogue. This will eliminate any last minute surprises and disappointments.”