Doing things poorly, but enjoying it.

27 marca 2013


There was a small town in southern Poland where a group of people gathered in the evening to make music. They had it all: saxophonists, trumpeters, and drummers. Mostly they were old men that simply liked to get together for good times and for the unabashed joy of playing. However, they were not very good players. Some of them could not even read the music. But no one cared.

As soon as they started playing, they were taken to a different world – a place of passion, common understanding, and respect. They had a great time until the day they decided to choose a new conductor who effervesced and who had a lot of ambition and drive. One evening he said to them: „Hey guys, let’s do something special… let’s put on a concert – a concert for the town.” Then he started to re-build the orchestra. He started by getting rid of bad performers and replacing them with professional musicians. He took it seriously. By some time, the orchestra took on a new shape. The concert was astonishing. Everyone in town was talking about this. All the musicians got their names in the local newspapers. Wasn’t it wonderful? Then, they decided to conquer the world; they moved to the big city and played there. But some of the old people in the orchestra had tears in their eyes. They said: „It was so marvelous in the old days when we did things poorly, but enjoyed it.”

This is a good metaphor that shows how competition affects our life. I often use it when I’m driven to talk about periodic performance reviews in organization. I’m asked: „Are performance reviews compatible with Scrum? Are they compatible with other agile methods?” My answer is always the same: „Sure, if you want to follow the herd off the cliff.” Moreover, regardless of the methodology an organization follows, performance reviews simply don’t make sense. The only positive thing about them is that once a year, a manager takes the time to talk with people who work for them.

Periodic performance reviews are about competition. They are about grades and rewards… about first and second place. Such an approach neither works with Scrum teams nor works with (in my opinion) project teams in general. A team has common goals and shares the rewards and responsibilities for achieving them. Performance reviews are not about common goals. They are not about sharing rewards. As in the story with the musicians, the organization wants to create an orchestra consisting of perfect people (stars whose names will be in the local newspapers), but who don’t have the sheer joy of making music with their colleagues. What a dreadful thing.

(Photo by Gaspard Winckler, Creative Commons)