I had the opportunity to speak with Sarah Baca at Agile2019 where she reported on her experiences assessing team performance and Scrum Masters’ competency.
Sarah is a people manager of Scrum Masters at Express Scripts. After having had minimal success with other assessment tools, they created their own assessment called TAP based on the principles outlined in the Agile Manifesto. They use it to gauge team performance and, indirectly, Scrum Master effectiveness.
Sarah shares how this all started: “One of my peers, Wendy Bennett, had already been using an assessment with her team using red, yellow, and green and the twelve Agile principles. We used this as the foundation to create the next iteration of an assessment. We called it the Twelve Agile Principles (TAP) Assessment. We created guidelines and asked Scrum Masters to measure their teams in green, yellow, red, with an arrow trending up (getting better), sideways (staying the same), or down (getting worse).”
In our conversation, also available here, we dug a little deeper into the challenges in determining whether Scrum Masters are doing a good job. What exactly does it mean to do a good job in a highly contextualized role? What may be good actions for a Scrum Master in one situation to support a team might prove disastrous in another context. And what happens when team dynamics or shifting organizational priorities come into play?
Sarah has not discovered an easy way to directly measure how good a Scrum Master is at supporting their team. But Sarah found TAP assessments to be a reasonable proxy measure. When Sarah reviews the TAP assessment with her Scrum Masters, each Scrum Master also creates or updates their coaching plan. They maintain their plan in between TAP assessment reviews and use it to track how they are helping teams over time. Now, instead of focusing on assessing and measuring Scrum Masters, Sarah works with them using the TAP assessment as a guide to determine where to focus first.
The real value of these assessments, according to Sarah, is the data they provide for constructive conversations when she coaches her Scrum Masters: “It’s that conversation that helps you say what does good look like, what’s going on here, how can I support you as your leader. That conversation is what’s so valuable.”