Personal Heroics vs. Team Success

One of the things that’s been interesting to me over the past year or so is the intersection between Scrum and the role of Human Resources (HR).  I’ve been  speaking about it with customers as well as analysts and reporters at get togethers like Agile 2009 in Chicago earlier this year.  In addition, I wrote an article for the Scrum Alliance website, which you can raed here. Michael James has also been thinking about this topic this year and I’m excited to share an article he recently authored soon (I’ll post the link in the comments section as soon as it’s live).

As I thought, HR ‘best practices’ will continue to be challenged in our discourse as Scrum adoption continues to mature.  In fact, if you are struggling with these issues right now, it may be a signal that your Scrum adoption is maturing.  The latest challenge came from the Agile Alliance LinkedIn forum and was later expanded upon over at InfoQ as Shane Hastie reports on a lively debate. Reeju Srivastava sparked the dialogue by asking,

“Should we have an individual recognition reward on a Scrum team?”

Predictably, Scrum practitioners on both sides weighed in. Virgil Mocanu defended the idea of recognizing an individual’s performance on a Scrum team, summoning the failure of Communism as a proof point. On the other side of the fence, Archit Jauhari succinctly argues against such recognition, writing:

“Scrum teams work because they [are] very closely bound to each other. Individual recognition may break this well knit fabric and create [a] rift between the team members.”

Personally, I have to side with Archit on this topic. One of Scrum’s most important differentiators is its emphasis on not only the team as a unit, but on the supreme value of the product they create. In a sense, Scrum espouses a servant mentality by placing the ultimate importance of development on delivering a product that satisfies the customer’s request. Certainly, from an output standpoint, a customer does not care if a single individual on the team carried the weight; all they care about is receiving a great product that meets the specifications they outline. So if that’s the definition of success in a project managed using Scrum, then it’s clear that individual heroics—and the recognition they draw—should be set aside for the greater good.

I would love others to weigh in as well. What a great topic as we head into the end of the year!

Laszlo Szalvay

Laszlo Szalvay is one of the foremost Scrum experts in the software industry. At CollabNet he oversees the company’s global Scrum business, helping organizations adopt and scale Scrum-based initiatives to drive productivity and quality improvements. He creates engagement frameworks to forge lasting Agile-process transformations at customer sites, using a personal approach to teaching and implementing Lean/Agile/Scrum processes as a means of achieving greater IT agility. He is expert at leading successful distributed Agile environments (usually with an Indian or Chinese offshore model), and addressing cultural nuances, replication issues, and capital and headcount resource requirements. Prior to CollabNet, Szalvay co-founded and led operations for Danube, a leader in Scrum tools and training, before it was acquired by CollabNet. He is an active industry thought leader, having written and contributed hundreds of articles, presentations and blogs on improving software delivery through Scrum. Since mid-2010, Szalvay has traveled more than 330,000 miles throughout Europe, Asia and North America, working with CollabNet customers and partners to gain a unique perspective of the complexities and success strategies of a globally distributed software organizations.

Posted in Agile
2 comments on “Personal Heroics vs. Team Success
  1. Ådne Brunborg says:

    Who chooses the individual to be recognized? Who knows enough about how the team workes to recognize “that one, she’s the most valuable team member”?

    How often should a reward be given? Every month? Every quarter? Every year? Or after a project has been delivered?

    Individual rewards requiers individuals to stand out. And standing out is easier in a project that is struggling – then, the person who puts in the most overtime, or attacks the most critical problems, or whips the team into delivery, is the most visible person on the team and the most likely to win the award. But this is just the kind of project we seek to avoid!

    A project that is well run, with little or no overtime, where all members are generally happy and deliver their commitment with little fuss, is not a good candidate for individuals to stand out. And this is the kind of project we want.

    But there is one situation which I feel is the only one that can justify individual recognition in a Scrum team: if the reward is chosen by the other team members. If your peers feel that you should have a reward – then, the reward might actually be deserved.

  2. Michael James says:

    I’m itching to respond to this…. stay tuned for the Better Software article. It draws on quite a bit of research that’s largely ignored by businesses, especially the large ones that should know better.


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