Tushar Paunikar: Agile and the KRA Conundrum

Reblogged with permission from , the original author of
 this content, as a contributor to blogagility.com. Originally published 
on LinkedIn, November 22, 2016.


Life can be pulled by goals just as surely as it can be pushed by drives. -Viktor E. Frankl

Metrics drive behavior. I bet all would agree. We have experienced this umpteen times in our professional life. Even our personal life is abundant with examples where metrics influence people’s behavior.

If my kid has the target to score an ‘A’ in Math and that target is linked to a new bike, he will try to find insincere ways to achieve his target, if he sees his attempts to study sincerely may not be fruitful.

If a developer has the target to maintain 80% code coverage and that target is linked to a quarterly Most Valuable Player award, (s)he will try to find nasty ways to increase code coverage, if (s)he sees that all attempts to write meaningful unit tests may not meet the project deadline.

If a manager has the target to execute all projects using Agile methodologies and that target is linked to a good raise, (s)he will try to find shortcuts to claim “all my projects are Agile”, if (s)he sees that some projects may not be good candidates to use Agile methodologies.

A recent tweet by Erik Dörnenburg captures a similar sentiment.

Good managers will meet the targets set for them. To do so, they will, if necessary, harm the organization they work for.

Humans are intelligent and good-natured beings. Give them a target, and rest assured they will genuinely try to achieve it. But, if they see that these targets are non-achievable, they will resort to deceitful means (read “gaming the system”); even if those ways and means lead to delivering crappy, non-working, buggy software and services.

Wait! Aren’t metrics and targets defined to deliver exactly the opposite of crappy, non-working, buggy software and services? Aren’t we supposed to meet the customers’ needs and requirements which help them grow in their businesses? Aren’t we required to help customers and users make their lives simpler by delivering great products and services? If this is not the goal, then what is?

The goal is to brag about the number of people we directly and indirectly manage in the organization. An oft-quoted refrain is “I have grown my team to more than 300 resources this year, an increase of 25% from previous. I hope I get that much-needed promotion”. There is no mention of the outcome of having 300 resources; and it’s doubtful whether the outcome was even part of the KRA. Referring people as resources is another issue.

The goal is to mercilessly compete with our own team members to get the highest ratings and appraisals. How often do we hear “This year also, I got an A+ rating. I am the star-performer in my team and nobody can stop me from getting promoted now”? There is no mention of the value which was delivered by the star-performer; and it’s doubtful whether the value delivery was even part of the KRA.

The goal is to exceed sales targets, by hook or by crook, to get a hefty bonus. We often get to hear “My sales numbers have never looked so good before. I am planning to get a Panamera this summer, out of the bonus payout”. There is no mention of how customers’ problems got solved by selling the products/services and what benefits were accrued; and it’s doubtful whether the customer benefits were even part of the KRA.

The goal is to cite policies and procedures and excuse ourselves from being the face of change. An oft-repeated show-off reads “Many people think I am preventing them from doing their work. But, I am proud that not a single non-compliance item was raised against me this year, only because I followed all the required policies to the letter”. There is no mention of what could have been done to help people do their work effectively and at the same time follow the policies in the spirit; and it’s doubtful whether continuous improvement in policies and procedures was even part of the KRA.

Have a huge team. Get the highest performance rating. Exceed sales targets. Follow policies and procedures. Should these really be the goals for any business? A counter-argument is that these relate more to employees who are part of the business; unless we have such goals and targets, individual performance can’t be measured. And that’s how organizations fall in the trap of measurements and KRAs. More often, organizations miss the link between the business goal and individual KRAs. The result is local optimization of the highest level (or should it be lowest level…). The reason is most likely rooted in the traditional mindset. No wonder, W. Edwards Deming had to clearly spell out his disregard towards this.

Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.

So, what’s the point? Am I hinting towards total elimination of individual performance measures? No, doing that would be like committing a hara-kiri. Instead, every possible attempt should be made to link business goals to individual KRAs. But, would this guarantee the achievement of outcome, value delivery, customer benefits and continuous improvement? May be not. This linkage can be the first step towards working for the business goals.

The next and more important step would be the transformation of managers into coaches and leaders. Leaders who prioritize business needs over individual goals. Leaders who see customers, employees and vendors as part of the system, as against treating them as separate organizations. Leaders who support people in achieving the business objectives, as against micro-managing them. Leaders who strive for long-term outcome, as against working for short-term benefits. Leaders who transform people from goal-seeking individuals to purpose-driven teams.

And I believe, Agile and Lean Thinking can serve as effective enablers for this transformation. Yes, Agile can be one of the enablers in the hands of Leaders who understand that the Key Result Areas for their business are Outcome, Customer Benefits, Value Delivery and Continuous Improvement.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s current or previous employers.


Published by Marshall Guillory - Blogagility.com

Information Technology professional, transformation leader, agile evangelist & coach, change agent, scrum master, servant leader and more...

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