Scrum is said to be intense because the size of the sprints is short; however, it must be sustainable so that the product can be developed over the long term [Schwaber 2021]. Unfortunately, Scrum, like any agile approach, involves complex activities in addition to feature development to ensure software quality in the course of a Sprint [Laing 2016] [Moustier 2019-1]. Moreover, the accumulation of all these activities must be compatible with a smooth production flow to provide added value to customers.
To avoid unreachable quality standards or Team Members’ burnouts, it is necessary to have a perception of the morale of the Team to see if there is space for improvement without breaking existing standards notably introduced in DoD or retrospectives. To make work less tedious, it is not uncommon to see processes become gamified, but to avoid that the game becomes only a mask of a hell it is essential to take the temperature of the participants.
To enable such a measure, some teams include a so-called “Niko Niko Calendar” (NNC) which reflects the morale of the Team time wise.
In Japanese, “niko niko” is the equivalent to the laughter sound “ha ha” and the NNC was first described by Akinori Sakata in 2006.
The easiest way to represent a NNC is a table with different kind of smileys that illustrate the mood during each period of time:
This table may then be displayed individually or for a whole team and eventually gathered at company level, on a sprint or daily basis, it just depends on how close you need to feel the temperature of people. The idea underneath is to watch for a long period of discontentment to avoid undesirable effects of low morale on the product quality [Weakliem 2006].
Impact on the testing maturity
The NNC acts as a barometer that helps the Scrum Master (SM) to eventually propose changes in regards with the mood. The SM may then propose a “continue/stop/start/more/less” retrospective. It facilitates establishing the balance between
- quality standard
- and morale
Introducing a measurement of morale is crucial. The British economist Charles Goodhart wrote book [Goodhart 1984] which lead to an adage often named “Goodhart’s law”:
“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure”
To understand this, you may figure out the Gross_National_Happiness in Bhutan. This government has managed to measure happiness in their country since 2008 while the government practiced massive ethnic cleansing of non-Buddhist in the name of GNH cultural preservation and there are perhaps 900,000 people most of whom live in grinding poverty…
Another example of mismatch between an indicator and reality is named the so-called “Simpson's paradox” which is an interpretation bias due to hidden variables as it occured in the Hawthorne effect from a plant in 1924 which tried to observe the impact of the working conditions on productivity: during the survey, the figures appeared to be correlated but once the survey was over, productivity went back to normal…
Those hidden variables act as a thermostat which compensates for unexpected variations; at Hawthorne’s, people were the thermostat who introduced biases.
It is then crucial to base your assumptions on a set of metrics including morale measurement and it should be combined with Gemba sessions to see effectively how well things are going.
Agilitest’s standpoint on this practice
Agilitest → Happiness 😉
To go further
- [Goodhart 1984] : Charles Goodhart - 1984 - "Problems of Monetary Management: The U.K. Experience" - ISBN 978-0-333-36060-6
- [Laing 2016] : Samantha Laing, Karen Greaves - « Growing Agile: A Coach’s Guide to Agile Testing » - Leanpub - 2016 - https://leanpub.com/AgileTesting
- [Moustier 2019-1] : Christophe Moustier – JUN 2019 – « Le test en mode agile » - ISBN 978-2-409-01943-2
- [Schwaber 2020] : Ken Schwaber et Jeff Sutherland - « The Scrum Guide : The Definitive Guide to Scrum: The Rules of the Game » - NOV 2020 - https://scrumguides.org/docs/scrumguide/v2020/2020-Scrum-Guide-French.pdf or https://scrumguides.org/docs/scrumguide/v2020/2020-Scrum-Guide-US.pdf
- [Weakliem 2006] : David L. Weakliem & Stephen J. Frenkel - AUG 2006 - “Morale and Workplace Performance” - https://www.researchgate.net/publication/258200282_Morale_and_Workplace_Performance