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Dan North on deep productivity: Delivering the team

We were working for a well-known software consultancy at a Big Bank that decided to introduce individual performance metrics, “for appraisal and personal development purposes”… This was cascaded through the organisation, and landed in our team in terms of story points delivered.

Which brings me to Tim. Tim’s score was consistently zero. Zero! Not just low, or trending downwards, but literally zero. Week after week, iteration after iteration. Zero points for Tim.

You see, the reason that Tim’s productivity score was zero, was that he never signed up for any stories. Instead he would spend his day pairing with different teammates. With less experienced developers he would patiently let them drive whilst nudging them towards a solution. He would not crowd them or railroad them, but let them take the time to learn whilst carefully crafting moments of insight and learning, often as Socratic questions, what ifs, how elses.

With seniors it was more like co-creating or sparring; bringing different worldviews to bear on a problem, to produce something better than either of us would have thought of on our own. Tim is a heck of a programmer, and you always learn something pairing with him.

Tim wasn’t delivering software; Tim was delivering a team that was delivering software. The entire team became more effective, more productive, more aligned, more idiomatic, more fun, because Tim was in the team.

Measure productivity by all means—I’m all for accountability—ideally as tangible business impact expressed in dollars saved, generated, or protected. This is usually hard, so proxy business metrics are fine too.

Just don’t try to measure the individual contribution of a unit in a complex adaptive system, because the premise of the question is flawed.

Dan North – The Worst Programmer I Know

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