Managing the Performance of Scrum Team Members

A client recently contacted us for guidance regarding managing individual performance in a scrum environment. This is a growing company that successfully adopted scrum a few years back. They asked me what they should do with a scrum team member that is not performing. Should they implement a performance management system, and if so how? I’ve previously written about this from the other direction, what to do with your performance review system when the company adopts scrum.

The first question to consider is whether a performance management system is really called for at all. If the problem lies with one or two employees, I’d suggest dealing with that situation directly. Start with getting better at providing regular feedback. Feedback should be coming from the manager, the scrum master, and team mates. If the employee isn’t responding, then the manager needs to initiate a formal ‘fix it’ plan with the employee. This lets the employee know that their performance is unacceptable and spells out the changes needed in order to keep their job.

If you decide that a performance management system is appropriate, then you need to be clear about what kind of “performance” you want. If you are doing scrum, then what you want is high-performing scrum teams. Start with this as the goal, and shape a performance management system that will increase your chances of getting team-oriented behavior from your employees. If you build a performance management system that rewards heroes and rock stars, you will get people who spend their time focused on looking better than their teammates, instead of collaborating with them.

Sometimes it’s hard to see the things that contribute to a cohesive team. I once worked with a developer whose technical skills were merely acceptable. This company had a bit of an alpha-geek culture, and some managers thought we should let this developer go, since they “didn’t fit in” and “weren’t performing at the level of the others.” I resisted, having noticed that this developer was always willing to take the less-glamorous work that the rock stars hated doing. Additionally, this developer’s humble demeanor helped keep the peace among an otherwise high-strung group. In fact, this person was vital to the health and performance of the team. I resisted the pressure from above to let them go, and the team went on to greatness.

Of course, teams are made up of individuals and we want each one to be a strong as possible. For this reason, I suggest a performance management approach that focuses on helping individuals grow their skills. This can be done by building on strengths, shoring up weaknesses, or by expanding in to new skill areas so that they can contribute in new ways. To this end, each person should have a professional development plan that they co-create with their manager. This professional development plan will help them to identify areas of strength and weakness, and map out a path for growth. A regular stop along this path should be weekly one-on-one meetings with the manager.

What are your thoughts on managing the performance of scrum team members? Leave a comment and share!

Cheers,

Chris

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3 Comments

  1. Paul
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Thanks for posting the content. Like you I have not always found that a performance management system was necessary. For those most part, team motivation and coaching around communication helped them to deliver more quickly. Thanks again.

  2. Francis Fish
    Posted October 18, 2013 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    I have never found them appropriate. They are a hang over from the mistaken command and control approach from the early 20th century.

  3. Divesh Singh
    Posted December 3, 2016 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Chris,
    Well written and I agree with all elements discussed. One observation will be that the nature of ‘Performance Management’ is changing while Performance Management itself is essential.

    We don’t need to do Performance Management as it was done in the ‘Command and Control’ era, but Scrum Masters need to be aware, trained and comfortable in dealing with the worst case scenario of having a person on the team who is much better off in another team despite the person desperately wanting and negatively fighting to stay in the team. By negatively fighting I mean that the person is executing his legal right to stay in the team instead of rising to the performance culture of the team.

    The actual discussions held between a Manager or Master and their team members under traditional performance management is almost identical to the conversation held in the weekly one to one meetings. What is the individual goal, what is the team goal, program goal and organisation goal and getting alignment between them, where is the short coming for the individual, what help and support that is needed during working hours and even after hours, how to ensure that the individual is progressing – maybe the individual themselves need to define the measurement metrics.

    What is really changing from the traditional performance management, is the physical process of performance management and its formality of the performance management. Performance Management is pervasive and subjective. There is no corporate level process that needs to be followed and adhered to where performance management becomes a compliance task instead of productive discussion.

    Scrum Masters or Managers must take responsibility of Performance Management of individuals within the team and be prepared and trained in how to handle the worst case of having to performance manage someone out of the team. Hopefully they never have to do it in their career but they must know how to do it.

    Performance management should not be pushed to individuals but individuals needs to be influenced mentored to embrace and pull personal performance management where the self training is aligned with the team goal, The team needs to define the standards – just like qualifying for the Olympics team has a standard that needs to be adhered to. It is not about executing personal freedom. Mathematically and formally defining such standards is hard due to the many soft skills that plays an important part in work teams.

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