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!