05 February 2013

People performance - key measurement points

I was recently asked how I measure the performance of people in IT.  While there are many related aspects of people management (e.g., setting objectives and measuring progress, remuneration change process, conducting a formal evaluation, career planning, motivation, creating shared values/methods, leadership and non-tech attributes, work prioritisation, KPIs, ...), the following is focused on key areas of performance measurement.

For each role, you want to have 3-6 top level areas of measurement - enough for meaningful evaluations but not so many that evaluations become too time-consuming and lack focus.  For each area of measurement, collaborate with the people in that role to list the area's archetypical traits.  Determining and agreeing the areas and the traits are a collaborative exercise although there will likely be recurring themes.

I've not included the process of setting and measuring against objectives in this article.  Objectives are very contextual with the work at hand and will change frequently.  You can list high level objectives and measures at the start of a review process and/or weave them in as examples in each area (particularly #1).  Objectives are the vehicles that demonstrate effectiveness in the five areas below.

The following are my five areas for technology roles along with some fleshing out I've used in both informal and formal reviews.  I've also added weightings for each area, although these might vary depending on the specific role (e.g., a manager of many people might elevate areas 3 and 4).

1. You deliver (40%)
  • Delivery is the most important item on this list of 5 areas
  • You get things done, over and over again
  • You deliver consistently, not in fits and starts.
  • Your deliveries enable additional revenues and/or secure existing revenues (but ultimately, working on a project that contributes big new revenues to the business wins)
  • You take ownership and show responsibility for what is owned
  • You consistently demonstrate integrity, delivering what you say you're going to deliver; however you can also…
    • be flexible and you're not afraid to change your priorities and commitments to do something that is even more valuable to the business at that moment because you can...
    • communicate effectively with stakeholders to come up with alternatives and/or renegotiate a delivery "win" based on changing circumstances and new information and priorities
  • You know when to ask for help and when to negotiate delegation of your responsibilities to others
  • You're focused on delivery and don't allow allow lower priority tasks to interfere with delivery; conversely, you keep an acceptable level of balance with your other objectives
  • You know why what you're working on is important to the business and can explain it to anyone that asks in non-technical business terms
  • You innovate to deliver new products and solve problems, but don't waste time re-inventing wheels
  • You remove, bypass or fix roadblocks and slow-down points
  • Everyone who pushes themselves and their team will sometimes fail:  When you do:
    • you take time to learn from it so you don't repeat the same mistake
    • you're passionate that you're colleagues learn from your failure as well
  • You understand and demonstrate good judgment and flexibility around commercial and technical trade-offs
  • You are comfortable making decisions to enable delivery progress in an absence of complete information
2. You are the go-to person (20%)
  • You're the expert, the master, the guru for your area(s)
  • People trust you and your work
  • You figure things out and solve problems
  • You are the innovator, the break-through thinker in your area
  • You're approachable and can talk at various levels (deeply tech to simplified non-tech)
  • You solve way more problems than you create
  • You have a passion for learning as much as you can in your area(s), but...
    • you exercise good judgment on spending time learning in areas that will help the business versus areas that really only benefit you
    • you don't expect to delay deliveries by spending time learning areas that aren't even distantly applicable to your responsibilities
  • You maintain a top-of-mind list of priorities for your area, improvements and maintenance
  • You know where your main areas of technical debt exist, proactively flag risks, and can present solutions and support business cases on how to remediate it
  • Your mastery radiates confidence, not arrogance.
3. You play nice with others (15%)
  • You make the whole greater than the sum of its parts
  • You think about how your decisions and implementation will impact others and collaborate on difficult choices
  • You're interaction with others increases their productivity and in turn the overall value of the company
  • You actually like people!
  • You share your knowledge freely; you don't stay silent waiting for someone to ask the right question or hoard your knowledge to increase your value
  • You help others, including proactive identification of problems and helping where you can
  • You have several informal mentoring arrangements helping others out on a regular basis
  • You enjoy recruitment and want a say in who joins your team
  • You like giving and receiving feedback - from informally over a beverage to more formally during 360 degree reviews
  • You recognize that different people have different communication styles and strengths and you freely adjust yours to maximize each interaction
  • You look for opportunities to interact with new faces through internal/external coms/blogs, meet-ups and hackathons
4. You have a great attitude (15%)
  • You're generally positive about your work, your colleagues, the company, it's products, and it's customers
  • The first thought in your head is "yes" when asked if something can be done, followed quickly by trade-off thinking and a view on how it can be done.  It's not "no", followed by "here's why we can't do it".  You think "we can do this".
  • You freely give credit to others and recognise and are transparent about when you're standing on the shoulders of giants versus when you are the giant
  • You're passionate and exited about a majority of your responsibilities, recognising that sometimes you have to roll up your sleeves and do some grunt work.
  • You're "present" in interactions, actively listening and participating
  • You're fair and firm, treating people and situations equally
  • You produce more energy than you consume
  • You keep cool and professional under duress
  • You're ambitious, pushing yourself and challenging those around you in a positive way
  • You're self-motivated and motivate others around you as well
.5. You're curious (10%)
  • You recognise that learning is motivated by curiosity, an innate desire to understand how things work
  • You pick up product and domain specific knowledge, at least enough so you understand the company and their products through the eyes of the customer
  • To sate your curiosity you develop relationships across the business.  You learn about other functional areas in the business and mentor others about technology.   As a result you improve your effectiveness at communication across the business.
  • You understand how things get done across the business, how processes and prioritisation work, who the decision makers are
  • You see how the business makes money and how your contribution generates revenue
  • You think about why your (potential) customers go to the competition rather than your company
  • You're interested in what is going on across the business, not just in your area but cross-functionally
  • By exploring new areas you're curious about, you contribute innovative customer-valued solutions
Ultimately, a company must deliver product to customers, not just be a great place to work with nice people.  As a result, you'll notice that I've weighted delivery and talent (60%) over the softer skills (40%).  When creating a new product/service from scratch (e.g., at a startup) with just one or a few people, you'll probably weigh 1 and 2 more than anything else.  When you start scaling up the team size, 3 and 4 start becoming more important.  And ultimately, to be considered a strategic team, you need people excelling in 2 and particularly 5, because that's where your innovation will come from.

Remember to that not everyone excels in all these areas from day one (or 20+ years for that matter…), but it's a good starting point to encourage your team toward greatness.


  1. Great inside stuff, with one drawback IMHO. It relies on one's judgement and it is very hard to scale. When you have 10s of development teams, any advice how to clearly put and measure KPIs for each team member ?

  2. It is a whole different blog topic to outline how to use these appraisals to compare people across different, often unlike, teams. In case that blog article is a long time coming, here are some things to think about in the meantime:

    1. Most importantly, what is the purpose of the evaluation in a given circumstance? An HR mandated formal annual review or something more informal mostly focused on mentoring? Feedback to improve performance? Help them create some "Where am I at in my career and where do I want to go?" context? Or just to get them a raise? Let's assume formal, annual and has to do with compensation as that's what usually has to scale across the company.

    2. Demonstrating good judgment is essential - I'll add "demonstrates good judgment" to areas (1) and/or (2) above. Good judgment is what enables people to make decisions in an absence of complete information (which is almost always the case) and find the sweet spot in schedule-scope-resource trade-offs.

    3. With respect to scaling, just assign a 1-3 or 1-5 scale to score each of the five areas, then multiple the weighting times the score. Painfully quantitative, but when dealing with big numbers of people it's about all you can do and does scale. If you do this, make sure identify your superstars and include a short qualitative note for them so they don't get lost in the mix.

    4. Probably the best model I've seen for comparing numerous similar peer teams is to have the team managers sit in a room for 1-2 days and thrash out a complete rank ordered list of all their employees. Managers must make a case for where they think their people should land in a list of (e.g.) 100 people. it's horrible while you're doing it, but it forces everyone to think through who the best and worse are in the group and what common traits the superstars have. You'll note I emphasis "outside the team" work and relationship building in the areas above and this is why I do so. Your better people will be will be well known to those outside their team.

    5. There is a growing trend to "instrument everything". This started in the systems world and has big-time relevance to product management and to teams of people that build and maintain products and systems. Basically, create a connection between revenue (or a proxy metric for revenue - uptime, API calls, …), products, and people who are associated with that product. This will allow you to measure and align people to real business contributions. Making these derived KPIs publicly available where possible also has a fantastic alignment and prioritisation affect as well.

    6. With respect to deriving common KPIs for similar but many teams (e.g., 10 dev teams), find the noisiest opinion leaders on those teams and have them annually thrash out and update what they think the KPIs should be along with several of the managers who feel strongest about the evaluation process.

    Good luck!


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