Resource Efficiency vs. Flow Efficiency, Part 3: Managing Performance

Resource Efficiency vs. Flow Efficiency, Part 1: Seeing Your System explains resource efficiency and flow efficiency. Resource Efficiency vs. Flow Efficiency, Part 2: Effect on People explains why flow efficiency helps you get features done faster. Here, in part 3, I’ll address the performance management question.

New-to-agile (and some experienced) managers ask, “How can I manage performance? How will I know people are accountable for their work?”

These are good questions. Performance management and accountability are two different things in flow efficiency.

Here are some ways to manage performance:

  • Ask for the results you want.
  • Ask the team to work together to produce features.
  • Create communities of practice to help people learn their craftsmanship.
  • Provide the team members with the knowledge of how to provide feedback and coaching to each other.
  • As a manager, you provide meta-coaching and meta-feedback to team members. (The team members provide each other feedback and coaching, managing their daily performance.) (See also Four Tips for Managing Performance in Agile Teams.)

If you do these things, you will discover that people are accountable to each other for their work. The point of a standup is to help people vocalize their accountabilities. If the team works as a swarm or as multiple pairs/triads/whatever, they might not need a standup. They might need a kanban board with WIP (work in progress) limits. If your organization likes iterations because it provides boundaries for decision-making or providing focus, that works. It can work with or without a kanban board.

Here’s a question I like to ask managers, “Have you hired responsible adults?” The managers almost always say, “Yes.” They look at me as if I am nuts. I then ask, “Is there a reason for you to not trust them?”

Now we get to the real issues. If the managers have encouraged/enforced resource efficiency, the people often multitask. Or, they have to wait for other people to finish their work. People have a difficult time finishing their work “on time.” Managing “performance” is a function of the system. The system of resource efficiency requires someone to check up on people, because the expertise bottlenecks can become severe.

Instead, if you manage the system by focusing on what you want—features—instead of tasks, you don’t have to do much performance management. Will you make a mistake and hire someone who doesn’t fit? Maybe. The team can tell you.

What if you hire a superstar? Maybe you’re worried that person won’t have enough to do. My experience is that the team will ask the so-called superstar to help them with other things, making her even more of a superstar. In addition, this superstar can help with everyone learning more.

If you don’t rub people’s noses in the fact that someone might be “better” than they are, they will use that person well. Yes, sometimes, I was the person who learned from the superstar. Sometimes I was the superstar. I never noticed. I noticed I got better when I worked with certain people and asked to work with them more often.

Think about what makes people happy at work. Once you take money off the table by paying people enough, it’s all about mastery, autonomy, and purpose.

As managers, you create the system to provide mastery, autonomy, and purpose. You don’t have to manage what people do all day. If you think you do, why would you want to use agile?

BTW, managing for results isn’t new. Peter Drucker first published Managing for Results in 1964.

In part 4, I’ll address accountability and what it could mean in flow efficiency as opposed to resource efficiency.

Johanna Rothman

Johanna consults, speaks, and writes about managing product development. She helps managers and leaders do reasonable things that work. You can read more of her writings at
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