Monday, June 23, 2008

The Happiness Meter

As part of any iteration review / planning meeting there should be a section where everybody involved talks about how they felt the last iteration went, what they thought stood in the way, what they though went particularly well and suchlike.

We find that as the project goes on, and the team gets more and more used to each other, this tends to pretty much always dissolve into everyone going "alright I suppose", "yeah fine".

Obviously, this isn't ideal and will tend to mean that you only uncover problems in the project when they've got pretty serious and nerves are pretty frayed.

This is where "The Happiness Meter" comes in.

Instead of asking the team if they think things are going OK and having most people respond non-committally, ask people to put a value against how happy they are with the last iteration's progress. Any range of values is fine, just as long as it has enough levels in it to track subtle movements. I'd go with 1-10.

You don't need strict definitions for each level, it's enough to say '1 is completely unacceptable, 5 is kinda OK, 10 is absolute perfection'.

At some point in the meeting, everyone in the team declares their level of happiness. When I say everyone, I mean everyone: developers, customers, XP coaches, infrastructure guys, project managers, technical authors, absolutely everyone who is valuable enough to have at the iteration review meeting should get a say.

In order to ensure that everyone gets to provide their own thought, each person writes down their number and everyone presents it at the same time. The numbers are then taken recorded and a graph is drawn.

From the graph we should be able to see:
  1. The overall level of happiness at the progress of the project.

  2. If there is any splits / factions in the interpretation of the progress.




If the level of happiness is low, this should be investigated; if there are any splits, this should be investigated; and just as importantly - if there are any highs, this should be investigated. It's good to know why things go well so you can duplicate it over the next iteration.

Factions tend to indicate that one part of the team has more power than the rest and the project is skewed into their interests rather than those of the team as a whole.

You may want to split the graph into different teams (customer / developer) if you felt that was important, but I like to think of us all as one team on the same side...

All said and done, the graph isn't the important bit - the discussion that comes after the ballot is the crucial aspect. This should be a mechanism for getting people to talk openly about the progress of the project.

UPDATE: Someone at work suggested a new name that I thought I should share: The Happy-O-Meter.

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