Individual Velocity in Scrum

Early on in a brief stint as a project manager with a startup in New York, the product manager told me we needed to track individual velocities on the team. We had only just begun an Agile transformation, with me as the Scrum Master and her as the Product owner. She said it was just for our own tracking purposes, but having been told before by someone in senior management that he wanted to know which of the developers were 'slacking off,' I knew why she was really asking.

The short answer to a request for individual velocity tracking, in an Agile environment, is ‘no.’ This is actually a big no-no, for at least a couple of reasons.

First, story points (or whatever method is used to weigh effort on user stories) are not precise. A team might look at a story and call it a ‘5’ (using Fibonacci, considering ‘8’ the largest) when it turns out to be a ‘3.’ Another ‘5’ could turn out to be an ‘8’. In the first case, the developer could end up looking like a whiz. In the second, she would be a slacker.

Second, Agile is all about teamwork. The time rises or falls together. If one team member is not carrying her weight, the team needs to deal with it. Perhaps she’s experiencing personal problems, such as a death in the family. Maybe she could benefit from some pair programming. Then again, maybe she is chronically ineffective, in which case it the situation will have to be escalated to management. That should always be a last resort.

The team velocity, not individual velocity, tells the real story.

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