Agile development · Capability growth · Leading change

Performance agreements – a first attempt for agile project team members

I was just reading an article on performance appraisals by Shane Hastie. It is a good summary of some of the issues that traditional performance appraisals cause on agile projects.

But it leaves two questions unanswered:

  • Where would you start if you actually had to do a performance agreement; and
  • How would you actually know what was expected of you if you didn’t?

The situation is made worse, according to the links in Shane’s article, when you want the team to be jointly accountable for shared success rather than individual success.  This is important if you want to work out how to evaluate testers or BA’s for example, because their purpose is to make the team successful rather than to stand out on their own.

So here is my first attempt at a pragmatic performance agreement:

Performance agreements are conversations rather than documents

Rather than trying to write out a performance agreement, just ask yourself these questions.

Who benefits from the work   I do?
  •   What do they care about?
  •   What do they want or need to achieve to be successful   in their role or business?
  •   What would they say they need from me?
  •   What do I think they really need from me?
  •   Would they notice it if I stopped doing some or all of   the work I currently do?
How else do I add value to   the organisation?


  •   What do I do for the team that makes their life better?
  •   What do I do that impacts customers, suppliers and even   the outside community? What should I do?


What currently gets in my   way?


  •   What keeps stopping me from doing my best work? What   keeps stopping me from delivering the things that I need to deliver?
  •   What would happen if these constraints disappeared?   What specifically would people notice was different?
  •   What potential do I have that the organisation is not   seeing or making use of (hobbies, skills from previous roles etc)? How might   some of these things benefit the organisaiton or make my work more satisfying   for me?
Based on all that, what   needs to happen for me to be successful?
  •   What do I need to deliver?
  •   How do I need to operate?
  •   What help do I need?


What is changing or could   change in the future?


  •   What has changed in my role recently, or over the last   couple of years?
  •   What do I wish would change?
  •   What is likely to change in the next 1 -2 years?


When you are done, ask your boss and key stakeholders the same questions. I suspect that each person you speak to will have a different view and this should highlight a number of key issues that you need to resolve, that would not normally be picked up by a written performance agreement.

Of course, you can and probably should document your performance agreement now:

Fill in details below

My role is  
Which means that [I create (or maintain or   mitigate)  {blah} so the   customer/organisation can {blah}; or

I provide {what} to {who}   so that they can {blah}. Without me they would have to {blah}

My top 3 – 5 responsibilities   are (in order) 1.



Now go back and check what your boss and key stakeholders think. Don’t let them off the hook though, push them to rank your responsibilities and add as many as they want, subject to then listing which are the top 3-5.

You can then add option fields to add more depth to the agreement if you want still greater clarity and focus.

For each responsibility:
  •   Write down the responsibility and why it is important.
  •   Consider coming up with a measure for the responsibility
    •   Responsibility, potential measure, target
    •   Define a goal for one or more responsibilities
      •   “I will {blah} by {date} so that {some benefit   that has meaning to me}. I will measure my progress by {blah} and when I   succeed I will reward myself with { something simple}”.
    •   Consider explaining the key tasks you need to complete   to be successful.


Add another   “responsibility”.


  •   The area I would like to change or grow better at (for   this role or as preparation for my next one) is {blah}.
  •   In order to start the journey on this, a short term   goal for me is “I will {blah} by {date} so that {some benefit that has   meaning to me}. I will measure my progress by {blah} and when I succeed I   will reward myself with { something simple}”.

Obviously this is hard. But I think it will highlight the key expectations you and others have for the work you are doing.

But now we have a baseline, you want to use this baseline to review your progress and also adapt to the inevitable changes that are occurring every day.  Read my OODA loop article and see if you can find a way to apply this to your continuously evolving performance targets.

This last bit is hard so maybe you can find a better way. Otherwise this whole thing is just a starting point for more conversations with your boss and stakeholders. But then I guess that is the point, we want to have a starting point to orient ourselves and then we want to continuously improve the conversations we have.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.