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Harmful aspirations

Recently I walked into a team room to see something written above the burn-down chart:

Goal 100 points

In itself relatively inoffensive, however if I told you that the team’s velocity had regularly been down in the 20’s and had only recently risen up to just over 60 points in a week, it starts to look a little optimistic.

When I asked around I discovered that it hadn’t been selected by the team, but had been written by a senior manager. What I also found was general discontent from the team itself, they couldn’t see how they’d possibly reach that goal, and morale dropping just because of some writing on a wall.

During discussion with the managers I was told that the reality was they had 400 points left on the Product Backlog and only 4 week in which to deliver – 100 points a week, simple. My side of the argument was as simple: they hadn’t come close to 100 points in a week and delivering above trend, e.g. 75 points, would look like a failure rather than the great achievement that it was.

Removing the goal from the board gave an immediate lift to the team. I’m not going to claim that it had a massive effect on the team’s productivity, but simply wiping the goal off the board raised the mood in the team room and meant less time was spent grumbling about management aspirations being imposed on the team.

Do I think these sort of goals can help the team? No, not if they don’t chose it themselves. If the team had agreed to try and achieve 100 points in the week I think it would have become a rallying point, but because it was pushed down from above they felt no ownership of the goal and became concerned about missing it.