How I Measure Scrum Team Morale

Dan Ray
Dan Ray
Jul 24 · 5 min read

At TriAgile 2019 in Raleigh NC, I attended a talk by Jenny Bramble, Testing Lead at WillowTree, Inc. that was provocatively titled, “The Only Good Quality Metric for an Agile Team is Morale”.

In it, Bramble reviewed various quality metrics, both familiar and novel. She weighed pros and cons of various ways of measuring quality, and ultimately rejected most of them as not really measuring anything meaningful, actionable, and valuable. The punchline, telegraphed in the talk’s title, is that team morale has more correlation with quality than any other factor. She backed that up well, and delivered the talk with style and fun.

I left that session with my head ringing. I had a gut-feel sense that my team’s morale had been improving since I brought them into real Scrum (and out of Scrumbut) a few months prior. But the notion of measuring that — and treating that measure as a proxy for quality — kind of blew my mind.

So I set out first to figure out how to measure team morale.

Morale Survey

Another thing I was exposed to TriAgile was the brilliant tool mentimeter.com. It’s a survey tool wearing presentation clothes — you present a “results” screen, users pull up the survey interface on their computer or phone, and the data populates into the presentation in realtime.

I created a survey for use in Retrospective that asks my team members to rate their experience in the just-completed Sprint, of their experience on five aspects of morale that I’m interested in. Here’s the results from last week’s Retro:

Mentimeter also lets you capture trending over time. Here’s the trendlines of this survey:

(On the real tool, mousing over the contents of the legend on the right “lights up” the corresponding trend line. This is just a screenshot so it’s not possible to show which line is for which question.)

Every Retro, I present the survey and invite their input. As their responses are filtering in, I say a little bit about what we mean by each of those categories. I mention that anyone who finds that their vote is an outlier (high OR low) might consider coming and chatting with me about that.

Outcomes

I’ve noticed a few interesting things, now that we’ve done this for eight sprints. First of all, it’s a great way of getting personal feedback that people wouldn’t otherwise come to me with. A couple of times the “Ownership & Empowerment” measure dipped, and when I looked back, I could see times in that Sprint when I’d been prescriptive or directive in ways that impacted self-organization.

I also noticed that “Pride” and “Fun & Joy” are closely correlated with “success” moments on the team. The first time they closed 100% of the Sprint Backlog items, or when an exciting new feature shipped, etc. The lesson here is: always be winning! Prime your team for ongoing success, and it’ll show up in how their work feels to them.

This whole conversation also gave me the opportunity to bring up the concept of Psychological Safety (which I so-subtly ask about as the third item on the survey). Most of them were unfamiliar with it, and have had nearly no exposure to an environment meant to provide them with it. However, I have noticed that over the months of discussing it openly, a real shift has happened in terms of letting their guard down with each other, trying new things, and respectfully challenging each other.

Most tellingly: one Retrospective, after we’d done the survey for a few Sprints, a conversation arose about how their stress level is down, and they seem to be producing more value with less effort, AND with fewer issues coming back to them from customers and production support.

Aha, I thought! There it is! Morale as a proxy for quality!

Challenges

The first thing I had to overcome was a tendency on the team not to take this seriously. The first couple times I had one or two people just vote all-fives, and not really reflect on their experience. I don’t want this to be a Heavy and Significant Data Gathering Exercise, but I DO want it to be genuine and real feedback.

It’s true that Mentimeter is shiny and candy-colored and might appear to be Not Serious. Even more, though, we’ve all been exposed to tons of office surveys and requests for feedback that fell on deaf ears and made zero difference.

Overcoming the team’s resignation about that has been an exercise in listening, and responding transparently to the feedback that the survey results provide. The more the team has seen me receiving that feedback, and more importantly, seen me adapt my behavior, the more honestly they engage with this survey.

By the way, a couple times when we have run process experiments, I collected the team’s feedback on those experiments on a Mentimeter slide, right along with this survey. It’s great for polling on any topic.

One more thing

Another session I attended and loved at TriAgile was “Psychological Safety: You’ve Heard of It, Here’s How to Actually Create It” by Yvonne Chen. There was lots of great, actionable, experiment-withable stuff in that, but one quick thing I took out of it was that she plays silly kid’s games in Retrospectives to foster team togetherness — things like “Two Truths and a Lie”.

So I started opening my survey session with that. We rotate who on the team is the subject each week. Here’s a recent one about me:

(I completely got ’em, btw. I drink coffee like somebody’s paying me to.)

I introduced this game as “a silly, obvious, hopefully-fun attempt to foster team camaraderie”. And yeah, it IS silly. But it’s turned out to BE fun, and we have learned a lot about each other.

So there it is. I hope you found this interesting, and perhaps you’ll share with me in the comments below anything you’re doing to measure morale, and what difference that’s made.

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Thanks to John Clopton

Dan Ray

Written by

Dan Ray

20+ years in the Software trenches.

Serious Scrum

Content by and for serious scrum practitioners.

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