Performance Feedback System for Project and Activity driven Teams

June 5, 2018

To be successful, team members and team leaders have to be productive and high performing. A constant question is: how are we doing? Without knowing your team's performance, you can't know if you are going in the right direction and if you are making enough progress. Are you creating enough value at an acceptable cost? Is anything getting done, fast enough? Are there opportunities to improve performance?

You also need to know what is realistic. Pursuing a performance goal that can't be met is incredibly demotivating. It leads to constant delays and missed goals, overpromising and underdelivering, and potentially burnouts. We need to know what performance we can expect.

The approach described here is mostly geared toward activity and project driven teams: software development, product development, design, marketing activities, consulting projects, training development and so forth. It's less applicable to teams driven by recurring tasks.

We wanted to design a feedback system that would tell us at anytime and for each team member:
 

  • What are the most valuable activities and accomplishments we should pursue?

  • How much effort will it be? What is a realistic performance expectation?

  • When do we expect work to be completed?

  • Are we going to make it?

  • How productive are we? Are we accomplishing enough, fast enough?


Below is an overview of the feedback system we have designed to help teams answer these performance questions.

The goal of this system is for team members to get continuous performance feedback to identify performance improvement opportunities. It is also designed as a strategy to improve performance simply through providing performance feedback. Just like an olympic swimmer instantly knows his performance in relation to the best time performance, which drives continuous performance improvement, research tells us that teams at work improve performance simply by knowing its performance.

The great news is that it's simple to do. All that team members have to do is estimate the work, update work completion percentage and update workflow status. That's it! These three inputs give you a wealth of information about performance.

Competence


Thomas F. Gilbert, one of the founders of performance engineering, extensively researched performance and defined great performance as Competence. Competent people are those who can create valuable results without using excessively costly behaviour. In Thomas's words, competent performance is 'worthy performance': a valuable accomplishment at acceptable cost. When we use performance from here on, we refer to worthy performance or Competence.

Thomas puts the emphasis on the accomplishment, not the behavior. When measuring performance at work, people tend to focus on behavior. But behavior isn't the goal, it's the means to reach the goal. So we can find ways to improve behavior that creates better results more efficiently, but to know the performance we need to measure the accomplishment (swimming technique is the behavior - swimming time is the accomplishment).

Improving Performance


The way to increase competence is to increase the value of our accomplishments while reducing the energy we put into the effort. Therefore, a performance system should reward the net result of the accomplishment and the effort. We are measuring performance, not people. People are not competent, performance is. People have potential. The goal of such as system is to identify improvement potential and learn if there is a reason to take action. If the performance is worthy, all is good. If it's not, we need to investigate and learn.

To know if a performance can be improved, we need a benchmark, so we can know the difference between the current performance and that of an exemplary or desired performance. If there is a difference between the two, there is performance improvement potential (Thomas calls this PiP).

Interestingly, knowing what your performance is in itself is one of the best ways to improve performance. As Thomas explains, better information is one of the most impactful ways with the least effort to improve performance.

There are two ways better information can improve performance:
1. Feedback: improve information on how well you are doing
2. Direction: improve information to show what to do, improve the ways in which you direct or guide the performance

How to measure Performance
In order to give feedback on performance, we need to determine a way to measure it.  We want to know both the value of the accomplishments and the effort it took to achieve the value. If something takes a lot of effort and has little value, our performance is low.

The value of an accomplishment is decided by the team or team leader as being high or low, so they can be ranked by highest value first.

Value = Value score by team

Assuming we've picked the most valuable activities to accomplish, we then need to make sure it is accomplished within acceptable effort. To determine effort, the team and team leader estimate the amount of hours work it will take to complete the work. This is the target or desired effort.

Some examples:
 

  • Writing a blog post: value score 7, estimated work 16hrs

  • Fixing a bug: value score 8, estimated work 8hrs

  • Delivering a customer request: value score 10, estimated work 160hrs

  • Preparing a workshop: value score 7, estimated work 16hrs


To determine performance, contrary to what you might expect, we don't necessarily need to know the actual time it took. All we need to know is if we stayed within the desired effort. If not, we know it's costing more effort than we wanted and it will show we are underperforming or underestimating - which signals that we need to take action. Instead of tracking actual hours, we'll track percentage complete - this is much less administrative heavy and it is therefore much more likely team members will consistently update it. It gives us a very simple measure of productivity: productive hours.

Effort = Productive hours = Estimated Work x Percentage complete

So, we've estimated the work. Then we start the work and track the percentage complete lets say on a daily basis. If all went well, at the end of the week, each team members has realized as many productive hours as the amount of workable hours available in the week (for example each team member has 36 hours available per week). If productive hours are lower than workable hours, we've not been as productive as we hoped for. If they are higher, we've outperformed our expectations.

Productivity = (Productive hours / Workable hours) x 100%

 

The value score and productive hours combined give us our performance measurement: did we achieve valuable accomplishments at acceptable cost?

Performance = Value / Effort

Tracking Performance


The Productive hours measure is a great way to spot early if there is a delay or not and if the team if meeting the work estimation. The Performance measure tells you if the effort if worth the value.

Once we have a work estimations, we can also add timelines for when we expect work to be completed. Start and due dates give us meaningful information about the performance measure of on time delivery (Thomas described three dimensions of performance: Quality, Quantity and Cost. Timeliness is a sub-dimension of Quantity).

We can further add progress feedback by defining meaningful steps or a workflow for completing the work. As work moves from one stage to the other, we get valuable feedback on progress we are making towards completing the work.

To add a performance measure of quality, we can review the work once completed and rate it: Was it bug free? Was the blog article well written and engaging? Was the workshop well prepared?

We now have everything we need for our performance feedback system so that we can identify performance improvement opportunities and monitor progress.

For any given week or other timeframe, every team member will know:
 

  • Completed work

  • Value of completed work

  • Value/effort ratio of completed work

  • Productive hours

  • Work unstarted, overdue, in progress

  • Work movement in workflow

  • Work rating and review


The TipHive Performance Feedback System

TipHive lets you do all of the above in 6 steps, so you always know how your team is doing. This is low administrative burden. All team members have to do is estimate the work, track completion and move work along the workflow.

Prioritize with Value and Effort


Once you have a list of activities you want to achieve, you determine the value and the effort for each activity. We use a scale from 1 to 10 points for both the value score and the effort score. This gives ranks your list based on the value and effort combined. So if something is high value and low effort, it will be on top of the list. If it is a lot of effort with little value, it will be at the bottom of the list.

Assignment and Estimation of work


Next, you assign the work to team members or team members can pick what they want to work on. Team members then estimate the amount of hours needed to complete each activity. Accurately estimating the work can be challenging, so we allow a confidence range to express how much more or less work it might be. You can use comparative work from the past to get better at estimating. Don't go overboard with trying to be accurate with your estimations. It's a learning process.

Timelines


Now that you know the amount of work it will take and the ranking of the work, you can plan when what can be completed and add due dates and timelines. Team members can set goals per timebox, ideally one or two weeks, for activities to be completed and the work can start, much like sprints or mini-projects.

Tracking % complete


Once team members start the work, they track the completion percentage of each activity continuously until it is completed. Unlike with tracking actual work, it's not a big deal if a team member forgets to update the completion. The completion percentage is a real-time measure and can be updated anytime based on the current completion status, giving you up-to-date information on progress.

Work movement


Using the Kanban view you can quickly set up a workflow. Team members can easily move work from one stage to another. With the Card Movement filter, you can see work that moved between stages this week, this month or any selected date range.

Performance feedback


You now have all the information to know how your team is performing.

  • What are the most valuable activities and accomplishments we should pursue?

  • How much effort will it be? What is a realistic performance expectation?

  • When do we expect work to be completed?

  • Are we going to make it?

  • How productive are we? Are we accomplishing enough, fast enough?


The Result for your Team


The goal of the performance feedback system is to get feedback. It is to identify where the potential for improvement is and trigger the discussion what improvements could be made. It should be approached as a continuous learning and improvement process, not as a rigid standard of performance. It is only when no improvement are made that team leaders should become concerned about the performance. Making performance feedback available it going to put your team on track to be a high performing and competent team.

Here is how it will improve the performance of your team:

  • Knowing the performance in itself already improves performance as team members know much better what to do and how they are doing

  • The sense of accomplishment and being empowered with direct performance feedback is a motivation boost for the team

  • It focusses the team's energy on areas where improvement is most needed and with the highest potential for performance improvement 

  • It flags delays early, so you can take action to correct it faster

  • It leads to higher predictability as we learn what realistic performance expectations are 

  • And finally, it saves team leaders a massive amount of time chasing the team for progress information and reduces stress around what to expect and if things are moving quick enough

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

 

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