Thursday, January 28, 2010

Talent acquisition and retention

My friend, Brad Cross, posted an interesting blog entry recently on how compensation relates to attracting and retaining technical talent. This particular phrase resonated for me:

"Great workers long to work on interesting and challenging problems and collaborate with other great people who have a strong sense of vision and purpose in their work. They long for an open and supportive environment grounded in mutual respect that enables them to make their own decisions as appropriate."

His blog post goes on to relate the disconnect between the 10X productivity difference between the best and the worst software developers and the incongruence of the meager salary differential proffered by employers to recognize this difference (hint: it's not 10x).

Brad's post is thought-provoking, as usual.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

No applause, just throw money

I have an aversion to the applause that occurs in some iteration showcases (aka sprint reviews) on agile teams. The showcases are the meetings at the end of an iteration where the team shows working software to project stakeholders. Unfortunately, many teams end up displaying PowerPoint presentations instead or in addition, but that's a topic for another post.

I once witnessed a team that had 2-week iterations and held a 2 hour review at the end of each iteration. Each team member presented what he had worked on and accomplished over the course of the iteration. First of all, two hours was too long for this team for a 2-week iteration. They simply did not produce enough demonstrable working software to warrant a two-hour meeting. Worse, they often resorted to presenting partially completed stories - another problem, but again, fodder for a future post.

Having each team member speak and present his accomplishments might have been a good thing for that particular team. It can provide a similar social pressure that stand-up meetings provide - nobody wants to stand up and say they didn't accomplish anything, so each team member strives to deliver demonstrable value. The problem I had with this particular team was that the norms established that everyone applaud each person after his little piece of the presentation. Not only was the applause time-consuming, it was gratuitous. Folks in the meeting applauded simply because they were expected to, not because of any remarkable achievement.

In some cases, the team member didn't really accomplish anything of note on his own and the applause was simply out of place. It is as if my dog takes a dump in the middle of the carpet during a party and the crowd rushes up to pet and praise him, and offer him doggie treats. Clearly, this confuses the dog.

Though applauding every presenter is certainly overkill, I argue that applause at the end of an iteration showcase should be eliminated (or better, never started in the first place). In any case, it should never be de rigeur, and should never be instigated by an outsider who may have no clue as to whether the team really accomplished something special.

Applauding showcases for mediocre or even poor iterations can have a deleterious effect on motivation. Consider this possible thought going through a team member's head: "They applauded for this crap? They have no clue what we're doing".

We have a habit of rewarding performance. If my kids come home with straight-A report cards, I heap praise on them. If a see a C, I begin my own inspect and adapt cycle at home. But in report cards, the grades are clear, and are mostly objective. That is - the "A" reflects a large number of assignments, tests, and projects, and the teacher assessing the outcome has a substantial pool of similar production to compare against. Outcomes of iterations/sprints, on the other hand, are hardly objective, and are not comparable to other teams' output. It is truly only the team members who know, in their collective heart of hearts, whether they really deserve applause or not.

So my suggestion: omit the applause until the code gets into production and the customers' rave reviews start flowing. That's when the party should start.