Measuring team sentiment
"How are we doing with this key result?"
If you've been on a product team for more than a minute I'm sure you've heard something like this once or twice:
- "When is feature X going to be done?"
- "How are we progressing on goal Y?"
- "How does the team feel about meeting the deadline?"
These are common questions that arise when dealing with real world constraints. Typically these questions get answered in standups, during sprint planning, in one on one conversations, or looking through the depths of your favorite ticketing system.
The good news is, once the information is gathered and an answer is given, that is the end of it! The question will cease to exist and never arise again.
Since we all know the last bit is nonsense, and it is common for teams to collect this kind of information on a weekly/bi-weekly basis, how valuable is that information in the short term? Is there value in retaining that information long term?
Staying on top of how a team feels about achieving a key result is important.
As a project progresses, there are oftentimes external factors that arise or new information that is uncovered. These can impact the likelihood a team will achieve its desired outcome within initial estimations (time and/or scope). Being aware of issues early can allow teams to take actions like:
- seek help unblocking work.
- re-evaluate or course-correct.
- adjust timelines.
- align expectations and dependencies.
All of these actions can be taken after learning how things are progressing in the here and now. They are tactical responses to mitigate immediate risk.
What would it look like to plot team sentiment over time and what would that tell us?
Sentiment over time
If your team is pursuing a longer running key result, there will be bad weeks and good weeks along the way. When you run up against a bad week, is it just a one-off that requires a few tactical responses, or is there something bigger at play? Plotting sentiment over time can show how the team is feeling in the long run. If sentiment is trending downwards, tactical level action can be taken, but now there is room to pause and ask the deeper questions, such as:
- is there a problem with the team dynamics or team demographics?
- is the key result wrong?
- do we understand the problem we are trying to solve well enough?
- do we understand our customer's expectations well enough?
- is morale low?
After speaking with customers over the past few weeks, we're empowering teams to make it easier to capture and display this information next to their key results.
To best understand how it works, let's take a look at an example of a fictitious company, PNP Inc. (Professional Networking Platform). PNP is a professional networking platform that places a large emphasis on the quality of connections over the quantity of connections.
The following is a key result copied from PNP's Vistaly board using the copy story feature.
- Professional Networking Platform
- Connecting professionals across the world on a meaningful level is difficult.
- When two people are connected on our platform, there is a high likelihood that a longterm, meaningful, relationship has just begun.
- Users highly value their relationships.
- Metric: Increase the average response to the 'relationship value poll' (out of 5), from 2.3 to 4.5
The key results the team has chosen is an attempt to quantitatively measure how users value their connections.
Another week has passed since the team has been assigned this key result and Brenda (the owner of the key result) wants to know how the team is feeling about their progress. Brenda visits the key result card on her Vistaly board and selects the Polls tab. Brenda then selects Open Poll, which enables each team member assigned to the key result to provide feedback in the form of a score which represents their sentiment towards achieving the desired outcome. Each respondent also has the option of providing a short note.
Once Brenda decideds to close the poll, results are displayed.
There are a number of benefits to this approach. Here are a few:
The poll format does not change. Over time, teams will calibrate to the polling and build a shared understanding and interpretation of the scale. This consistency removes a level of subjectivity.
Poll data persists over time. This can be useful information based on the reasons listed above.
All team members can see the current state of affairs. This can allow for team members to step in and help when able.
No Bandwagon Effect
Since results are not shown until all responses have been submitted, individuals will not be swayed by the responses of others.