Aman Garg

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Effectively manage a non-performing team member in Scrum/Agile Projects

A non-performing team member can be a nightmare for any manager/scrum master/product owner. It can drag the performance of the whole team and pose challenge to successful completion of the sprint. A non-performing member can cause ripple effect on the morale of the team. Hence, it of utmost importance to identify a non-performing team member and continuously work towards converting him to a performing once again. It will be easy to say to take off the team member from the project itself but in my view that should be the last resort when all the other options have been applied and deserted.

In legacy waterfall model the estimates were provided adding buffer to any such risk, the scope was whole project and it was easy to slip in the buffer without anyone taking note of it. This buffer would cover for any unplanned leaves by a resource, scope creep up to certain extent, non-performance by an individual(s). In Agile world there no such luxury to add buffer. Scrum brings transparency and that makes such scenarios a little bit more difficult to handle.

Though Scrum gives high importance to Collaboration which dictates that in case there is a non-performing resource then other team members should be able to cover up for him so that there is no impact on the deliverables. This might still hold true for isolated/one off scenarios.

I would recommend following steps based on my experience to handle such scenarios:

Preparation: Prepare yourself to understand better the situation. Gather the facts like how many times deliverables have been impacted due to delay on his part. Also, note what impact those delays have caused in terms of reputation, direct cost, trust and so on. Try to understand about his performance in the past. Has it been always like that or his performance dropped over the period of time.

Conversation: Setup a meeting with the resource. These conversations should never be done in front of other team members. Your preparation done earlier will help immensely while talking to team member. Put your thoughts directly without mincing the words so that he understands that the point of discussion is his performance and that’s what we are going to talk about. In case, the resource goes on back foot and in denial mode, then the facts about the delays will come handy.

Once resource acknowledges the delays at his end, try to understand his perspective on the delays. The most common reasons are:

  •           Monotonous/Repetitive tasks
  •          Career Progression
  •          Dissatisfied with Salary
  •          Issue(s) with peer(s)/colleague(s)
  •         Skillset mismatch

You might have to drill down further to get to the depth of the issue. Most of the times, the actual issue is not reported at first instance. The real issue starts to surface only after 4-5 questions. So be aware and keep digging. Once the root cause is identified, try to present options to address the concern. Be honest with your commitments and be prepared to honour them once committed.

Actions: Continue to work towards the commitment made and keep the resource in loop. Also, keep an eye on the performance and do notice any changes.

Training/Mentoring/Coaching: Always look out for these to convert a non-performing resource to a performing one. A good training or coaching can do wonders. Team member also gets some time off the work to analyse and introspect on what’s going on.

Leaves/WFH: Suggest team member to take some time off, give he has ample leave balance or work from home (WFH) for few days/week to give him a break. This can also help him bring back if he is burned to due to over load.

Reprimand:  This should always be your last step, once all the other things have been tried. Even if things boil to this stage, there must be a way to do it properly rather than making a person guilty. You can always look for other projects where he/she might be a better fit.

There are various ways which you can adopt to make a team member performing again. You would need to reach out further to better understand the issue and that will help in coming out with a solution. Better option would be to encourage resource to come up with the solution rather than you suggesting one. This would be much more effective way of dealing with the situation. This would also mean that the team member understands the gravity of the situation and willing to cover it up.

Let me know your thoughts and any other suggestions the readers might have. I will add it back to this article.

~Aman Garg

Print | posted on Friday, November 7, 2014 12:15 PM | Filed Under [ Agile scrum Project Management Team ]

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