Maturity Assessments and Performance Reviews in Agile

Photo by Ben Watkin

Photo by Ben Watkin

Maturity assessments and performance reviews aren't necessarily new in agile, but it seems like the way they are conducted might benefit from some updates:

  • As part of my job as an agile coach, I have been conducting team agile assessments recently, and I've learned that the process/format matters a lot--it's the difference between a team feeling like it is being audited or interrogated vs. feeling like it went through a deep retrospective and owns its results.
  • I had a conversation the other day with someone who just had a mid-year review of his annual performance goals, which include implementing Project X.  Project X has not yet received funding approval, and given some of the organizational changes recently, it's unclear when it will be approved.
  • A fellow coach told me about how he was talking to a developer last week and encouraging him to apply for a technical lead position; he told him, "if you're not a little bit scared about moving up, then it's not a promotion."

Until a few weeks ago, the agile maturity assessments I was involved in were conducted as team interviews, and something always seemed off about them.  It felt stressful for the teams and the coaches alike as we struggled to ask questions without leading the team to certain answers, and the teams tried to tell us what they thought we wanted to hear.  Teams often didn't agree with the coaches' findings, which seemed like unfair judgments to them.  It was a no-win situation!  But by immersing the team in an activity and facilitating the meeting more like a retrospective, the tone of the assessment process is changed dramatically--the team is more engaged and bought-in to the results, and the process allows for more teaching moments.

Performance reviews are fraught with more challenges in today's world:

Driving this need [to rethink performance management] are seismic changes in demographics as well as how work is structured today. Annual goals might have worked 20 years ago, but between new technologies and a rapidly changing economy it is hard for goals to be relevant for more than a quarter. Even quarterly feedback does little for younger generations craving to learn something useful every week from their boss. And consider the fact that most of the time performance is only discussed with one manager - even when that employee is involved in a half dozen emergent teams unrelated to his manager's work. The nature of work has become more relational and creative than ever, with a greater need for collaboration — which some performance systems accidentally inhibit.

Many companies conduct 360 reviews to get feedback from a person's boss, his peers, and his direct reports, which provides more insight into his overall performance, but I'd like to know how performance management can be updated to give an employee more frequent feedback and more engagement in the review process so he [hopefully] comes to the same conclusion as his boss after going through the process, along with a clearer vision of what to do next.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.