Rewarding Developers For Working Hard

Episode 62

May 31, 2012




The Agile Weekly Crew discuss Esther Derby's article But Are They Working Hard?

Episode Notes

Clayton Lengel-Zigich, Roy van de Water, Drew LeSueur and Derek Neighbors discuss an article by Esther Derby entitled But Are They Working Hard?

How can you tell if a senior developers is acting in a way that befits their title?

Should we reward the hardest worker for working hardest?

What makes a senior developer better than other developers?

Should we ever care if the developers are working hard?


Clayton Lengel‑Zigich:  Welcome to another episode of the Agile Weekly Podcast. I’m Clayton Lengel‑Zigich.

Roy van de Water:  I’m Roy van de Water.

Drew LeSueur:  I’m Drew LeSueur.

Derek Neighbors:  I’m Derek Neighbors.

Clayton:  Today, we’re going to talk about an article that we found from Esther Derby. It’s titled, “But are they working hard?”

It’s a story about some managers in an organization that’s adopting Agile and they’re wondering to themselves, “OK, everything seems like it’s going well, but there’s this guy over here and he’s got that “senior” word in front of his title. He’s a senior developer. I’m wondering, is that guy really doing senior level work? His team is this cross‑functional thing. Everyone’s doing a bunch of stuff all together.”

How do I know that this guy is really pulling his weight?

Drew:  Why do you care?

Clayton:  As the host of the podcast, I’m not sure.

Roy:  Maybe you care because you’re paying him a lot more than everyone else.

Drew:  That’s a good example.

Clayton:  Maybe I’m paying this guy more or he’s got more seniority or he’s my buddy and when special assignments come up, in the past, I’ve always picked him. But now, I’m just kind of wondering, is he kind of just goofing off now because he doesn’t really have to work as hard?

I don’t know.

Drew:  Is that a legitimate concern of mine?

Roy:  I think that’s true. I didn’t think about like that, but yeah, if this guy is not pulling his weight, then maybe you can cut his pay, right?

Derek:  I think the other way we see this manifest is, you know, good people have to be pushed really hard. If I can’t tell if that individual is really working hard or not, how do I know to whip him harder?

In the old school management style, if somebody is not working, you whip them and you continue to whip them until they are performing to their “stretch goal”. But if you don’t know if the person is being stretched or not, how do you know to whip them?

Can a team only reach its maximum potential if every individual on the team is reaching their individual maximum potential and are putting in the maximum amount of effort?

Drew:  I think, that’s what Management 1.0 believes.

Derek:  How do measure effort, too? If you’re talking about laying bricks or shoveling something, yeah, sure you can be maxed out and shovel as fast as your physical body can shovel.

But if you’re on something that’s creative like software or something else, how do you physically think harder or think faster? How do you judge that even?

Drew:  I think it goes back to the “work smarter not harder”.

Derek:  Right.

Drew:  So if you go to your snow shovel example, if I give you a tablespoon and I go ask you to shovel snow and you are putting every ounce of your body into it and working so hard that there is no question that you are ready to be on the brink of death you are shoveling snow so hard.

Then I turn around and give you a two foot by one foot snow shovel and you are working half as hard but you’re getting twice as much snow shoveled, should I be pissed that you are not working hard enough?

Derek:  Let’s say, I am on a senior development product team and I see that this team is not going to hit their commitment. Let’s say, it’s a longer term commitment. They’re missing their release.

I could see that in an organization, especially one that even has the concept of senior developers like me, right?

Roy:  You’re not that old.

Derek:  Well, I am a senior developer.

Drew:  Do you get the discount at Denny’s?

Derek:  Yeah, the over 65’s discount? I think, I might still qualify for the student discount. I could see what I would so as a senior developer is not help my team out.

Let them fail so it look’s like shit is going to hit the fan and I am not helping them. I knew from the beginning that they weren’t going to make it without my help.

Then what I do, is at the last moment, when it looks like all is lost, I work my ass off for two days straight. I just kick ass and, now, I’m the star. I mean, that’s how I got the senior title in the first place.

Why wouldn’t I keep doing that?

Clayton:  I was going to ask, what is it about the senior developer that makes them the senior developer? I think, in this example in the article, a lot of it comes down to you have been there longer or, maybe, you have exhibited some hero coding specialties where you burned the midnight oil a few times. Then, all of a sudden, you are loved by the manager.

What is it really? I think that’s the question. Why is this person the senior developer and how do I really know that they are the senior developer, especially if they’re working in this environment where everyone is supposed to be equal?

Derek:  I think this is kind of a mind set shift that management has not gone through. Today, the mindset is the person that works the hardest is the leader, right?

If you come in early and you stay late, you write more code and you’re more knowledgeable about the code, then, clearly, you are the code leader. You’re the senior developer.

That becomes what they look for, so who is going to burn the most midnight oil for me? When that person steps up they will become the leader. I think that on Agile teams, specifically, or self organizing teams, it really is all about continuous learning. It’s about learning how to adapt to situations and learning new things.

I think, the concept of leadership fundamentally changes. It’s not the person who works the hardest. It’s the person who gets the most out of the people or makes the people around them the best.

That’s who the real leader is on an Agile team, it’s the person that people say, “This person makes me better at what I do.”

Drew:  Is it really the person who works the hardest or is it perhaps the person who sacrifices the most because I think we’ve seen even internally where we have issues with team members that have a martyr complex and they seem to rise to the position of leader because they earn respect through sacrifice.

Derek:  I definitely think, that’s just a form of working harder, right?

Drew:  Sure.

Derek:  I think, when you say, “Woe is me. Look at what I had to give up to get this.” That largely becomes a, “Wow, you know that person’s really taken one for the team. They’re really working out,” you know what I mean?

I don’t want to say those are interchangeable pieces, but yeah, I definitely would say that sacrifice, commitment, working hard, you name it, like all of the kind of Management 1.0 or 2.0 concepts.

“I don’t have to crack the whip hard on that guy. I know he’s going to work hard. I know he’s going to sacrifice for me.”

Roy:  Some of the things that were mentioned in the article, that senior level things “are like pairing and mentoring”, code kata, examining the team’s practices, looking for ways to improve, those are all things I think that speak to Derek’s point of helping the people that are around you improve.

I think, the real sticky situation that comes up a lot especially in an organization that’s transforming itself, from an HR perspective, if you have people on the payroll or that they’re in this position in the pecking order as a senior person, but these attributes aren’t things that only they can do.

They might be doing something like this in some aspect of the team for some period of time and then someone else might get jazzed up about it and they start doing it. You have this floating role in leadership position where everybody can be some leader in some aspect and now that senior thing kind of disappears, right?

Derek:  Right, I think you start to have senior people with different things. It kind of becomes who’s initiating that particular thing and that person might rise to the leader of the team or the senior person on the team for that particular type of thing.

Whether it’d be a technology or whether it be a process or whether it’d be whatever, the teams start to say like, “So‑and‑so is kind of our go to person. They’re the champion for whatever that is.”

They’re the database champion or they’re the Java script champion or they’re the Agile champion or they’re the Kanban champion or they’re the training or teacher champion.

Drew:  What if the entire team is kind of slacking off?

I remember we were reading about the article and briefly talking about it. It mentions the concept of something called social loafing. I think, Derek, your eyes lit up when that was mentioned. I’m not really familiar with it. Can you explain what it is?

Derek:  I’m not too familiar with it. I talked about it a bit this last week with a number of other coaches. I think, the term goes something to the fact of this concept of when you get in groups, people start to defer responsibility and it becomes somebody else will pick up that slack.

There’s this loafing around concept the more social something gets. I think, there were some studies done by some people doing a tug‑of‑war type of thing that if you meas