Published May 5, 2022

Assessments are not all bad

If you’re familiar with maturity assessments, you may have heard a few criticisms about their value and effectiveness. In Felix Kiefer’s experience, what has been evident is that assessments that are owned by the team produce more value.

As a coach, consultant, or someone who just wants to understand a bunch of teams, a maturity assessment can come in handy. Maturity assessments are used for all kinds of teams and situations, from DevOps to organisational culture assessments, and can cover aspects such as technical practices, work processes, and the implementation of agile principles.

If you’re familiar with maturity assessments, you may have heard a few criticisms about their value and effectiveness. Often, many of us, myself included, have looked at the results and thought ‘hmm, interesting’ and then never look at them again. However, this isn’t even the worst outcome. Sometimes, management and leadership teams can use assessments as an excuse to penalise teams who have not yet been able to reach high performance in all areas of their operations. No wonder assessments get a bad wrap! 

The real value of maturity assessments, however, is not for a coach, consultant, or middle management to understand what a mature team looks like, but for the team themselves to have a shared understanding and awareness of their own journey to becoming a high performing team, in whatever business area they operate in. 

My own journey in understanding the value and best way to approach taking a team on the journey to becoming high performing started with asking for advice from Frank Valks, Aginic’s Enterprise Agile Coach. I asked Frank how I could quickly understand where a team was at and be able to help and support them without having countless team conversations, individual interviews and so on. He introduced me to the Lightweight Agile Maturity Assessment (LAMA). Importantly, he explained to me that for maturity assessment to be effective, a team needs to self-assess with the results acting as a catalyst for discussion rather than dictating solutions based on the observation of so-called “experts”. Basically, an assessment needs to be “by the team, for the team”. Frank also explained to me that the value of a maturity assessment is not only to understand where a team is currently at in their agile journey, but also to help create a shared understanding of “what good looks like”, providing a “north star” to guide a team on what to work towards. 

With that in mind, I saddled my new LAMA and galloped to one of the teams I was working with. Though initially there was some scepticism within the group, they soon were able to understand and experience the value they could gain from open discussion around individual aspects of their specific situation and the team’s agile maturity. A sense of ownership was established and the team were able to discuss topics deeply, openly, and without judgement,  very much in line with Norm Kerth’s “Prime Directive”, a useful tool often used in retrospectives to create an environment of psychological safety for teams. 

“Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.”

As a result of the team’s open and frank discussions, the group was then able to effectively and collaboratively work together to come up with iterative experiments and solutions for improvement areas identified by the assessment. One area for improvement that came out in the assessment results was improving communication – this is a common challenge, especially for geographically distributed teams such as this one. Collectively, the team agreed to experiment with a number of strategies to increase communication and collaborative working across their locations such as virtual random coffee catch-ups, dedicated chat channels for daily puzzles or riddles and using office webcams they could unmute and just talk to each other. 

In this case, the organisation’s approach to the assessment results was to use them as a tool to provoke conversation and empower and encourage the team to find a way forward rather than to play a “blame game”. The success of this approach was evident to me in observing the team’s passion and drive to continuously improve. 

Since working with the team mentioned above, I’ve used a range of maturity assessments with various other teams from Data Maturity to DevOps and even with non-technical marketing and business development teams. In my experience, what has been evident is that assessments that are owned by the team always produce more value. In the pre-COVID days, we would often run maturity assessments in person, however, during lockdowns we realised we needed to ensure we could operate remotely, scale our approach and keep it fun. There’s been lots of behind the scenes work at Aginic to achieve this, with a crew of experienced agilists, designers and engineers collaborating on a tool specifically designed for teams – we can’t say too much just yet, but stay tuned for more news in this space in the near future! 

Get in touch with Felix Kiefer

Studied International Business in Dortmund (Germany), gained experience in Europe, South America and Australia in various industries. Enjoys simple and intuitive designs and strives to tackle problems from unusual angles and perspectives. Always curious how things work. Savours the diversity and energy of the team.

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Felix Kiefer
by Felix Kiefer