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Should a ScrumMaster Give Performance Appraisals?

8 January 2007

Esther Derby
Esther Derby Associates, Inc.

A ScrumMaster recently asked me if he should take over responsibility for year-end performance evaluations since he was closer to the work than the functional manager for the team. It’s not the first time I’ve heard this question, and as more companies begin to use Scrum, I’m sure I’ll hear it again.

It does make sense for a ScrumMaster to give feedback. But when it comes to taking over (or participating in) the annual appraisal, ratings, or rankings, my answer is “No. No. No!” There’s a fundamental conflict between coaching to improve effectiveness and evaluating for ratings, rankings, raises, or promotion.

Yearly appraisals, performance reviews, and evaluations emphasize hierarchy and differences in status. ScrumMasters are in service to the team; they don’t manage the team. Creating a higher status position (evaluator) is an impediment to the team self-organizing—and to the team learning how to give each other feedback and manage their own performance.

People who receive high ratings may bask in the glow of affirmation. However, psychologists know that 80 percent of people believe their performance is above average. Statistically that can’t be true; yet, on an emotional level, that is what most people believe. When people receive a lower rating (or an unexpected rating), they focus on the reasons they deserve a better rating. That impedes honest discussion about skills and behavior.

A number or letter rating doesn’t provide sufficient information for a person to know what or how to change. Even when the rating or ranking is followed by a description of specific behaviors, the person on the receiving end is focused on “the number,” (and the reasons they deserve a different number). That’s a barrier to improvement.

When people only have serious conversations about performance once a year (or even once a quarter) it leaves too much time for problems to fester. Why let a problem continue? Why suppress team productivity? When a team member is doing something that’s detrimental to the team, the time to tell him is now. When a team member’s work isn’t what it needs to be, the time to tell him is now. When people receive that information long after the fact they wonder, “Why didn’t he tell me sooner? Doesn’t he want me to succeed?” That erodes trust, and trust is a prerequisite for effective coaching.

Participating in individual rating telegraphs the message: “I say we’re a team, but I don’t really mean it. I’m still looking at individual performance, not team accomplishment.” That undermines the ScrumMaster’s role in improving productivity, helping the team self-organize, and improving the life of the team.

“But,” you may say, “the ScrumMaster is closest to the day-to-day performance of people on the team.”

That’s true. So, by all means give feedback on day-to-day performance and patterns of behavior. Provide clear, specific information about what you observe. Help people understand the impact their behavior and work results have on the team. That’s information that will help team members make choices to continually improve their skills, professionalism, and contribution to the team. By all means, coach people as they learn new skills. Help the team learn to self-organize by holding up a mirror on their processes and challenge them to think and decide on their own.

The ScrumMaster and team members know how each other are performing. When the ScrumMaster and the team are committed to giving each other congruent feedback, there’s no need for a performance evaluation: people know how they are doing and are working to improve every day.

What can you do if, as a ScrumMaster, you are pressured to provide input for a performance review? Explain that you have been giving feedback throughout the year (or quarter). Give examples of how you have provided feedback and seen changes day-to-day (without naming names).

Don’t provide feedback for the manager to pass along, even if it’s feedback you’ve already given to the other person. The manager won’t have the context to provide clarification or answer questions. “Pass along” feedback—especially when it’s new information—creates a tattletale dynamic. The recipient of pass along feedback wonders why the ScrumMaster didn’t give the feedback directly, and that damages relationships. Explain to the manager that everything that needs to be said has already been said directly.

Explain that the work is interdependent, so it’s impossible to pull apart individual contribution. You are focusing on improving the performance of the team and that individual performance evaluation will detract from that focus.

Create a team performance review where the team members discuss how the team is doing and where the team needs to improve. Do this as a face-to-face discussion, not through anonymous comments or ratings (I’ll say more about how to do this in a future column). Provide the team’s own assessment of their performance to the manager. The manager can then choose how to apply that assessment in the mandated performance appraisal process.

Managers believe they must engage in the ritual of annual evaluation—because they’ve always done it. HR may have targets for percentage of reviews completed. Neither has a thing to do with actually improving performance. Individual performance evaluations and annual reviews are an impediment. Steer clear of them—they are a vestige of command and control that Scrum can do without.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

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Anonymous, 1/25/2007 2:16:14 AM
Anonymous, 2/27/2007 11:08:34 AM
That sounds very inspiring. But the main problem is that people get their salaries on an individual basis and when they ask for a raise, HR needs some kind of feedback. The idea for evaluating is trying to provide an objective feedback. Some people do deserve more than others. Should the whole team then evaluate the contribution of each member? Or should we give raises to all or none? (that sounds unfair, people always perform different, even within the same team)
Anonymous, 3/6/2007 12:03:39 PM
Agile techniques depend on an organizational shift in how people are evaluated. I completely disagree with the author's assumption that the scrummaster should not be responsible for giving evaluations. I'd suggest a shift from HR driven promotions/raises etc. to team driven. Otherwise we return to a world where productivity is measured in lines of code, number of hours worked or some other metric rather than the quality or speed by which a release can be achieved.

Who better to evaluate the team then the scrummaster? Is it so hard to be objective? Are scrummasters afraid of hurting someones feelings? OR are we just afraid of being evaluated at all?

If the scrummaster is fair and reasonable and the team professional then most evaluations, I suspect, would be nothing more then a time to sit down and reflect on the contributions a person has made to the team.
Anonymous, 3/6/2007 12:03:59 PM
I agree with the last comment, it really sounds quite strange.
And as I have been reading about scrum thus far I believe there is nothing such a project manager.
Scrum Master is a team leader and the companies I have been working with, they have always taken TL's feedback for appraisal.

If a position of project manager is being ruled out by Scrum Master what about the responsibilities of project manager that Scrum Master cannot take, like is the case with appraisals.

Philosophy shown with Scrum is undoubtedly great but there are lot other things that a company needs to take care of apart from production. I hope I will read further how Scrum handle such things soon.

-Aditya Raj
Anonymous, 3/13/2007 9:04:33 AM
We are trying to incorporate scrum where we have 2-3 small scrum teams of about 5-6 people each. But due to personnel resources, our product manager (which is my boss) is going to become scrummaster. Unfourtunately, he is also the one who writes my evaluations. What should happen ? Allowing the team to evaluate themselves as a whole, but it still leaves room for those who are slacking to pass through the cracks. The evaluations are the only way upper management can really see what is going on with the individual....
Anonymous, 3/13/2007 9:04:40 AM
The evidence does not support the widely accepted beliefs about performance appraisals and incentive pay. Jeffrey Pfeffer gave a succinct summary of the assumptions and evidence in his recent testimony before the US Congress.

Esther Derby
Anonymous, 3/13/2007 9:04:46 AM
Responding to Anonymous on 5 March 07 23:39

IΓÇÖm not sure I follow your line of thought that the alternative to performance evaluations is measuring lines of code.

And it *is* difficult to be objective in evaluating other people. Both the difficulty of assessing individual contribution to interdependent goals and the presence of bias are well documented. Further, such evaluations fail to take into account the effects of organizational systems, policies, management, and culture on performance.

I do agree that team evaluation is preferable to individual evaluation ΓÇô and there the primary measure is delivery of working code.

When people and teams receive feedback (information) basis, yearly evaluations arenΓÇÖt necessary. People have the information they need to improve right away, itΓÇÖs not stored up for the end of the year. Then, as you say, the team member can sit down with their coach and reflect on their contributions. Some thoughts on what that looks like here:

Esther Derby
Anonymous, 3/13/2007 9:04:49 AM
I think this would be nice. As a VP in my organization, we tied to an employee roadmap that used for bonus and salary adjustments. The challenge is to find alternatives to this. Also one thought for a future article is even though scrum is flat how best do you structure reporting since most companies still need this structure.
Angela Druckman, CST,CSP,CSM,CSPO,REP, 3/19/2007 12:24:12 PM
As a ScrumMaster, I appreciate having the opportunity to give feedback for my team members. I particularly like to comment on the standard "what does she do well, what needs work" question, because that let's me indicate any behaviors that I think are an impediment to the scrum process. I also sometimes make training suggestions. But it's not my place to do the performance appraisal completely. I wouldn't want to - I agree with Ken: I serve my team, not the other way around.
Anonymous, 3/26/2007 2:05:22 PM
So all certified scrum masters earn the same ammount? Of course they don't.

We all recognise that there are (sometimes large) differences between individual performances - and what they expect to be paid. Given that you have to assess the level people are operating at in order to pay them the appropriate amount you need some sort of appraisal system. The observers rightly point out that the scrum master should be giving continual coaching and feedback through the year. Which places them perfectly to give a realistic overview of performance - and whether they acted on advice and issues effectively. i.e. adding value to the existing system rather than scrapping it with no effective replacement.

In reference to the linked article on evidence based management it raises a number of good points in terms of "more money" does not equal "more productivity" which are valid - however it is an important criteria for retention of your key staff. (This is the case in the UK at least)

Regards, Andy B
Anonymous, 4/17/2007 12:25:28 PM
I am puzzled. I never mentioned paying everyone the same amount. There are other rational systems for determining how people are paid... eliminating performance ranking doesn't mean everyone will be paid the same amount.

Further, performance is *not* soley a matter of individual skills. Performance is a function of the person *and* the environment. Policies, procedures, structures (and dare I say it) the quality of management all affect individual performance.

Esther Derby
Anonymous, 5/14/2007 9:06:48 AM
An interesting article but it doesn't propose a better alternative. I agree w/ the conflict an SM has as a performance manager but they are the best positioned person. Also, it seems like a lot of overhead to me.
Anonymous, 5/21/2007 12:57:39 PM
This is an interesting discussion, but whether or not the SM is the boss or a peer there should be some measureable metrics that can be distilled out of the Scrum process that can be used to objectively measure both individual and team performance. Some examples could be: Tasks taken vs, tasks completed (for a sprint) * some difficulty level * experience level.
Anonymous, 6/4/2007 9:08:43 AM
As a leader in my organisation, my primary concern is overall performance increases of the division as a whole. This translates well to the Scrum level where the focus is on the team's delivery rather than on individual contributions. Nevertheless, we are also constrained with two realities: inequitable contribution and constrained resource. Translated: I don't want to lose the most valuable members of my teams to the competition, so I have them evaluated and pay them more. If a poor-performer is stolen away, I wish them well and hire someone more capable. If a strong performer is being solicited, we fight to keep them. Without evaluations, one tool for retainment of key personnell is lost forever.
Noah Williams, CSM,CSPO, 12/11/2007 2:26:20 PM
I support ongoing performance feedback at the close of each sprint; and recommend that the team provides peer reviews of other team members (constuctively of course) and requests feedback from the SM. To reduce any overhead concerns, the feedback can be verbal on a regular basis, with a documented appraisal according to the required frequency, usually determined by a company's HR dept.

Also, I'm wondering if anyone has implemented an appraisal model, and associated compensation model, that is successful in appraising performance for team collaboration and team productivity, while not decreasing the motivation of 'Exceeds expectations' type resources from continuing to go above and beyond on behalf of the team's success (or company)?

Gary McCants, CSM, 2/4/2008 2:28:17 PM
Gah! I am alarmed that so many of you are defending individual appraisals, and straying from our role as ScrumMasters. It is about The Team, not the Team Member, as Ester clearly says in her article. And what you do as ScrumMaster is it coach the process, ensure the few rules that are in place are followed, Sheep Dog, and _represent the Team to Management_.

I was forced to do Yearly Performance appraisals this time. Our HR department spent Big Money on a tool for this. I had to use the tool. I brought the issue to the Team, and told them they had the chance to step beyond Self-Directed into Self-Managing. They gulped and said, "No thank you. We'll provide feedback, but we want you to do the money stuff." I agreed, and told them it was no shame to fall short of Self-Managing; I have never seen one myself.

So, I did the PAs -- sorta. I transcribed all of the performance appraisal questions into Survey Monkey, and had every person rate every other person. Monkey collated the results, and I transcribed the rolled up numbers back into the HR Tool. Then I "awarded" everyone the same merit increase.

I sat down, individually, with each Team Member and showed them what their Teammates rated them, and told them about the merit increase. I added nothing but some heart-felt, handwritten comments on their copy of the Performance Appraisal report. In the following weeks we intend to sit down as a Team and discuss the Survey Monkeys, organically. It is my hope that will disarm some and allow the kind of frequent feedback that Ester recommends. But, that too is a Team decision.

So...I didn't actually do the PAs. I represented the Team to Managment by transcribing and enabling. Do some Team Members deserve more pay than others? Maybe, in the overall Marketplace. But if the Team itself cannot award and accept that responsibility, it is certainly not our job as ScrumMasters to do so.

Yuriy Mann, CSM, 6/12/2008 2:00:02 PM
Question to Esther: it would still be interesting to hear what clear alternative you could suggest for identifying and retaining the "Exceeds expectations" people? And who should handle it if not Scrum Master?
Joan Redwing, CSM, 6/13/2008 3:57:42 PM
Completely agree with the author that Scrum Masters should NOT give performance reviews!! Instead the entire team can give feedback with respect to teamwork and team results. For example, at my prior organization we were all rated by our team members on projects. You could rate each team member as "+", "-" or "=". + meant that you helped advance the team or support the team members tremendously, - meant that you were a hindrance to the team, = meant that you held your own quite nicely. Each rating by each member plus their comments were sent to you. In fact, that is the only performance review I have saved over the years. The insights it provided to me about my performance in a team culture were invaluable and helped me move toward the Scrum Master role. The 360 degree team feedback process took only a few minutes to do. The feedback was timely and routed to the division Managers for inclusion in the semi-annual review. Let me know what you think....
Vijay Nathani, CSM, 6/16/2008 11:49:47 AM
I think that:
1) Product Owner should evaluate the entire team. No individual evaluation.
2) The team as a unit should evaluate the ScrumMaster.
3) Consultants should be evaulated by the team members
I think this would ensure maximum effectiveness. The Team will be self managing and provide value to Product Owner. The ScrumMaster would be evaluated for his coaching skills and will not be able to micro-manage the time.
Paul Parker, CSM, 7/23/2008 10:30:29 AM
ScrumMasters by their nature are facilitators not resource managers. Team members should do a 360 review of each other, this peer review is more meanigful and promotes team building.
Herve Meftah, CSM, 7/30/2008 11:48:02 AM
Because I ushered many roles ( project leader, Sybase DBA, analyst, tester, benchmarker, developer, code reviewer)in same time within a project in the past and today.
I've always dreamed to be a full time ScrumMaster. Unfortunately the reality is quite tough.
Most of the time the leader developer or the project manager acts as a ScrumMaster. Just browse a job website with the keyword "scrum" you will get 60% of the positions related a "double-caps" person and a java (??) expert as well.
Just remove your "ScrumMaster cap" when doing your team member performance appraisal ;-)

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