This is a tough question for any product or project manager to answer. The key to making this decision wisely is to fully understand the problem.
How is the team under-performing?
In other words, how do you know the team’s not accomplishing its goals? Are expectations clear to everyone involved, down to each individual team member? Is the Scrum Master effectively keeping these expectations in front of the team as they handle the daily scrum and routine retrospectives? Are the expectations truly measurable and in line with established business goals, or is there a conflict that could be coloring the team’s apparent failure?
All these questions highlight the fact that there could be issues that the team members themselves are either unaware of, or that are completely out of their control. In these cases, the problem doesn’t necessarily lie with them at all, and may require a completely different solution.
Is the Scrum Master aware of the problem?
In most Agile team environments, the product manager sits in a position one or two steps removed from the actual day-to-day team dynamic. So, while their oversight and review of the numbers may reveal an apparent personnel issue, the Scrum Master is really in a better position to offer a well-rounded view of the situation and/or the individual in question.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that a personnel decision should necessarily be based solely on the opinion of the Scrum Master. In many cases, their view of the problem may be limited by their exposure to larger strategic considerations. But a project manager who decides to remove or replace a team member without the Scrum Master’s viewpoint in mind may cause more problems than they solve.
Is the team succeeding anyway?
In some cases, a particular member of the team may be doing less than their fair share of the work, which can certainly have a bearing on their long-term employment with the company, chances at promotion or future earnings increase. But it’s very possible the team is picking up the slack and successfully reaching their goals regardless.
In this circumstance, you may decide that rocking the boat would cause more harm than good. This comes down to matters of morale, and whether or not the individual contributes in other less tangible ways that the team would miss if he were gone.
Will the under-performing team member change, given the chance?
If you can determine that an individual’s inadequacies are directly translating to the team failing to meet goals, discuss the issue frankly with the individual.
Identify issues with their performance, outline a set of measurable requirements including a strict time line for compliance, and notify them of the consequences of not meeting those requirements. Then, follow through as needed.
Is everyone in agreement?
In some cases, everyone agrees off the bat that the under-performing team member needs to go. In this circumstance, your decision is made as long as all legal and organizational requirements are met.
If the decision is to remove – or even fire – an under-performing team member, the best policy is to do so quickly and decisively, then replace them quickly or rearrange the team to compensate for the loss until the project is complete.
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