Give the 360 Back to the Team

January 26, 2009


Tired of doing the same old retrospective every sprint? You know how it goes: what went right/what needs improvement/action items. Are you running out of ideas for improvements?

Here’s an idea: at the end of each sprint do a 360 review. Use a survey tool and have every member of the team review each other’s performance in the past sprint. Just a couple of questions would do it. A good tool would summarize the data for each team member. Then, based on that feedback, each individual on the team would have a really good starting point for a discussion about how they can improve their performance in their next sprint.

Imagine doing a 360 every two weeks. Imagine changing the questions every two weeks to meet changing conditions that the team encounters. Imagine having up-to-date feedback on your performance as seen by your peers every sprint.

I offer this notion as a counterpoint to the traditional 360 review that is run by the corporation/HR. You know the one where you have to review a bunch of people you don’t necessarily know, then sit in an uncomfortable meeting with your manager where they review your personality flaws revealed by your peers. Instead, the 360 is for your use only. You decide what to do with it. Nobody else, not the scrum master, no one else is privy to the results.

I’ve done 360 reviews at a couple of different places (it had nothing to do with Agile). In most cases it was a top-down driven process. Questions were determined by my managers (and their managers) and when the results were tabulated they were given to your manager first. Then your manager would review the results with you. Recently however I found myself at a company where they wanted to do things differently. Privacy was a much bigger concern in this culture. People didn’t want anyone to see their results – not even HR.

At first I found this preoccupation with privacy perplexing (I’m very trusting by nature). However, as we went through the process I realized that the privacy actually seemed to improve the 360 review. It keep the feedback limited to the person who needed it most (the person being reviewed), without exposing it to the judgement of others (managers, HR, etc.). Whether or not you wanted to actually *do* anything about the feedback was purely up to you. It took the pressure off the situation – and I usually find that to be a good thing. If my salary isn’t hanging in the balance, I usually make much better decisions.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought we should be able to do a 360 review as frequently as we want to (assuming we can keep them low cost/low effort). Better yet, if the team controls the questions that are asked, then perhaps the team can change the questions frequently to match the changing nature of the problems they face. That seems to offer a unique opportunity to provide honest, anonymous feedback for team mates. 

An agile purist might maintain that a team should be able to give each other that sort of feedback without the 360. We should be able to critique each other face to face. Perhaps. There are some teams that are very good at that (very few that I’ve worked with). For the rest, the 360 might be worth experimenting with.

What sorts of questions might you ask in this kind of 360? Here are a few ideas for categories of questions based on the Scrum Values as described by Ken Schwaber:

  1. Commitment
  2. Focus
  3. Openness
  4. Respect
  5. Courage
  6. Technical Skills
  7. Domain knowledge

If you are thinking of trying this out, here are a couple of tools that might be useful for implementing a cheap 360 for your team:

Feedback is good. I’m thinking of using this sort of survey for my presentations.