Thursday, April 9, 2009

Can Agile Teams Recognize an Individual?

So, I found myself in an interesting debate with KanbanJedi. He raised a really good point that I agreed with:
... So recently I heard of a team that is using Scrum and their manager had decided to have a “Person of the Iteration” award for the person that completes the most points in a Iteration.

I think this totally misses the point of Agile being a team of people working together to get as much stuff “done” in an iteration to the highest levels of quality...

... What happens if several people work together on a story – who gets the credit? Well firstly you’re not encouraged to do this to win the award and secondly I have no idea how that works.
Fundamentally, I believe that he and I agree that any award that encourages individual behavior over the team will be destructive to the self-empowered self-managed team structure. I took a minute though to play devil's advocate and see if there was an example of individual recognition that could grow the team in a positive way.

My first thought was that it had to be from the team, not from a manager or due to a metric.

My proposal was MVP, or Most Valuable Pair Partner:
I’m thinking of a mature agile team that does TDD and pairing (that already limits this enough to strike it down from being a public idea since most teams aren’t there).

If every person on the team nominated the peer who provided them the most value that sprint as a pair partner, then the team is selecting the person who most contributed to selflessly supporting others in delivering value/velocity and/or mentoring/knowledge sharing. Such an award would encourage people to not work as individuals, but work to uplift the team as a whole.
As nice as this sounds, I'm inclined to agree with KanbanJedi that this might be a bad idea. Only a very mature team can handle such an approach and not let it degrade into someone gaming the system for recognition sake. I guess the award could be recognition only (pat on the back) so that it's about pride and nothing more, but there is a risk.

So, the question is whether an agile team can provide individual recognition to a team member? Or is it too filled with risk to even open this pandora's box? Does this fit into Mary Poppendieck's points on constant and timely feedback, or is it a bastardized version of the old management's way of passive-aggressive team-destroying motivation.


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