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The Self-Appraising Team

18 May 2012

Uday Shete
FIS Global Business Solutions

However exhaustive and meticulous your current employee appraisal process is, chances are you aren't pleased with the outcome. The primary objective of a performance appraisal is performance improvement, starting with the individual and rolling up to the organizational level. But an individual who doesn't fare well in an appraisal feels demotivated, defeating the purpose of the exercise.

Looking deeply at the challenges of the current common appraisal system, a few points stand out:

  • Appraisals are subjective, even if key result areas are well defined with clear measuring criteria.
  • Subjectivity is especially tough to eliminate when it comes to employee behavioral (as opposed to results).
  • Feedback happens only once or twice in the year and is seldom incremental.
  • Organizational goals are usually not revisited as frequently as they should be, either by team members or by the appraiser, and hence the appraisal may drift away from project or organizational goals.
  • The appraiser may be biased by recent events rather than able to look at overall, year-long performance.
  • There is often a failure to deliver a win-win solution to any problem or to motivate team members to take on higher goals.
  • The "halo effect" can bias an appraiser, when the influence of certain good traits override others.

When an organization follows Agile processes, more challenges arise. Agile methodology focuses on team performance more than on the individual. The objectives of the team aren't easily broken down by individual; one cannot appraise the individual on the basis of team performance.

Although this is not an attempt to propose a solution for all of the above issues, I do believe there is a workable solution for appraising Scrum team members, one that addresses problems raised while remaining within the Agile framework and philosophy. If a team is self-organizing, per the Agile framework, we can empower that team to raise itself to a "self-appraising team."


The self-appraising team

We can leverage the spirit of Agile to empower the team to appraise its own team members. The sprint retrospective is done continuously, and it helps evolve and improve team productivity and efficiency. The team determines what was good, bad, and ugly, and it determines what it needs to do to improve. Ideal sprint retrospective meetings are conducted within a candid, honest, and constructive environment. What better platform to appraise individual performance as well? Wouldn't every team member appreciate such an environment for his or her appraisal? Since the sprint retrospective is a time-boxed meeting, my proposal is to use 15 minutes out of this meeting for the purpose of individual team member appraisals.

Now we have the right platform, with the right people. The team believes it is the owner of the appraisal process and is empowered to carry it out. The question that remains is how?


How and what can be achieved in 15 minutes?

During the sprint retrospective, play a game of nominating the best performer within the team, as voted by each team member. On a blank card, each team member writes the name of the best performer. (Important rule: No one is allowed to nominate him- or herself.) The ScrumMaster collects the cards but does not disclose who received the most votes. Instead, each team member first takes two minutes to explain why the person he or she has nominated was the best performer during the sprint.

Next the ScrumMaster scores each nominated individual on the basis of number of votes and announces the top three performers of the sprint. Note that we may have seven members in the team (give or take a few), and we've already ranked three of them within first sprint.

The most important part of this exercise is getting honest and constructive feedback about the work that's been executed. Each team member who is nominated understands what he or she did that brought on that vote. Other team members can set their own goals about what to do to achieve the same feat in the next sprint. The feedback is delivered by the team, so it is clear, crisp, and close to reality because it is offered by a group of people who work closely with each other on a day-to-day basis.

This feedback also removes a great deal of subjectivity, especially around the behavioral aspect, because team members make nominations based on the person's overall performance. Coworkers may choose not to nominate a high performer if he or she demonstrates other undesirable attitudes, such as a failure to support fellow team members.

Such ongoing team appraisals of individuals maintain transparency and also help each team member, on a regular basis, understand their performance. For example, if a one-year project runs sprints every two weeks, team members will experience 24 appraisals by the end of the year. This helps avoid disappointments at the final appraisal when raises and promotions may be decided.


Benefits of the self-appraising team

In summary, the benefits of a team self-appraisal are as follows:

  • Its inherent transparency eliminates personal bias.
  • Everyone experiences regular and honest feedback from the team. (This is called 360-degree feedback.) One has the opportunity to receive feedback at the end of two weeks and to improve performance immediately in the next sprint.
  • The goal is clear, and everyone receives continuous feedback about what's expected from high performers.
  • The scoring system eliminates subjectivity.
  • The team does the appraisal itself and thus trusts the outcome of the exercise.
  • It provides a simple way to align individual objectives to project objectives, thus rolling up to organizational objectives.
  • The 15 minutes allowed for this within each sprint eliminates the mammoth efforts currently put in for annual or biannual appraisals.


Alignment with the Agile framework

  • Feedback is crystal clear and focused on individuals rather than the process.
  • The method focuses on measurable performance, not excessive documentation of an individual's performance.
  • It eliminates negotiation and propagates transparency in the system.
  • It offers quick and frequent feedback, with frequent opportunities to take corrective action.
  • It offers an environment of trust and honesty, which supports the development of the team.

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.

Article Rating

Current rating: 5 (1 ratings)


Yogesh Shinde, CSM,CSPO, 5/23/2012 1:08:40 AM
Hi Uday,
Really nice and different thought process.
Thanks for sharing.
- Yogesh S. Shinde
Amaresh Velamuri, CSM, 5/25/2012 5:36:33 AM
There are no guidelines / rules provided about appraisals and are always tough especially while using Scrum.
I liked the idea of 'Self Appraisals' and empowering the team with more unbaised solution. Could be worth to give a try.

But how do one handle with 'goal settings', 'career aspiration' and sort of things which are only shared between the team member and the appraiser. Coz this should also be validated with the appraisal process along with work goals.

This is one area where Scrum is creating complexities over traditional approach.
Jim Evans, CSPO, 6/15/2012 9:55:30 AM
Very interesting idea for soliciting team feedback in a positive way. Worth a try. The goal issue is one that is on my mind as well.
Harish Reddy, CSM, 6/25/2012 10:56:50 AM
Hi Uday,

Good topic!

FactorΓÇÖs influencing the performance rating.
- The current compensation
- Comparison of the accomplishments of the individual across the department/organization.
- The title and itΓÇÖs expectations
- Flexibility and Adaptability
- Attitude and Behavior
- Leadership skills
- Accomplishments on multiple assignments

The performance rating is dependent on several factors. The team individuals may not have an insight into all of them. Certainly, the teamΓÇÖs self-appraisal ratings can assist the appraiser to address few of the challenges that you have mentioned in the list.
Andreea TOMOIAGA, CSM, 7/12/2012 6:54:42 AM
Hi Uday, interesting topic and a very innovative suggestion for an appraisal! I would ask how would you handle a case when some team members work concurrently on several projects. Multitasking is not recommended for productivity, but in some companies and circumstances they are pretty widespread! If a team member works during a sprint for two concurrent projects and the appraisals for them are different (coming from different teams) - how should this information be aggregated/interpreted as the appraisal result for the current sprint for the respective team member?
Maryann Snider, CSM,CSPO, 7/14/2012 11:05:10 PM
HiUday, I'm interested in this topic as well, because I believe traditional performance evaluations often miss the mark of giving relevant feedback in a timely way, and may even be harmful in the hands of a poorly trained manager.

Would you include the ScrumMaster and Product Owner in the appraisal? What about support members who may not be considered part of the team, but play a major role in the success of the team? Would you recommend this feedback be made part of their official performance evaluation or simply an information source of feedback?

Nice job. I'd like to bring your idea to my teams and ask them if they'd like to include during retrospectives, and it would be helpful to have your thoughts about these other dimensions for appraisals.
Rafael Sabbagh, CST,CSP,CSM,CSPO,REP, 7/30/2012 4:31:57 PM
I'm curious about the outcome of this in the long run. I'd like to offer that to the next team I'll coach, and see it working if they will be willing to use it. Should be interesting.
Davide Noaro, CSM,CSPO, 8/22/2012 3:36:43 PM
I don't think the "self-appraising team" is a good/correct strategy for a Scrum team. Personally I'm not in favor of nominating the best performer within the team because this can easilly lead to tension inside the team. What a Scrum Master should do is to help to create the good team spirit. People should do and feel as a real team! In Scrum we should try to eliminate most (not all) individual factors from assessments keeping instead teamworks factors. Team should go towards excellence not competition! When you start thinking to evaluate people separatly inside the team speaking of performance is because your team is not really a team!
Sunil Prasad, CSM,CSD,CSPO, 9/9/2012 4:43:17 AM
This does not align with the philosophy of Agile . Somewhere we are creating team competition after every sprint this may lead to a team where every one will concentrate on his/her performance during the sprint . We should encourage the team to help each other and the team performance should be accountable after every sprint.
Uday Shete, CSP,CSD,CSM, 9/17/2012 6:52:29 AM
Thanks all for your comments. I was really waiting for some counter views to respond back to the queries raised on the article. This article is published in my OrganizationΓÇÖs internal portal and received same feedback.

Many of you liked the idea which demanded the real implementation on ground. Some of the groups which I was in touch with started implementation and overwhelmed with the result. Team really knows who the best performer in the sprint is. Most of the time best performer is selected anonymously!

To answer Amaresh Velamuri query; we are more of focusing on performance rating. Career Aspiration and goals (as mentioned by Jim) is really a discussion point for Manager and the team member. Performance rating is input for appraiser and the team member for further negotiations.

Andreea for as you rightly mentioned practically in some cases members work on multiple projects in that case if those project follow process of 'self appraising' then the numbers will still make sense.

Maryann, Scrum Master shall be included as he/she is part of day to day function of team and aware enough to comment on individual performance. Product owner is optional in ΓÇÿsprint retrospectiveΓÇÖ and also might not have insight on individual performance of the team hence shall be left out of the 'Self Appraisal'.

Davide and Sunil thanks for your counter view. Believe competition is good when it is done in healthy environment. ΓÇÿSelf AppraisalΓÇÖ way people not only focus on individual performance but teamΓÇÖs performance as well. Reason being while nominating emphasis is given not only on the basis of individual performance but also behavior aspect of the team member. Nobody will get nominated if he/she works for individual performance keeping team impediments intact and not helping other team members to do their job better.
Steve Clymer, CSP,CSM, 1/28/2013 9:53:19 AM
Receiving and providing feedback in a safe and constructive way is one of a managers key roles. It follows for a self-managing scrum team that the team must provide feedback itself. No solution to this is ideal, but the technique descibed by Uday is better than a manager doing it and much better than not providing any feedback. At some point the organisation has to have information to decide about when and if to increase pay rates.

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