This is Why a Legit Performance Review in Tech 'Does Not Exist' by@katezalozna

This is Why a Legit Performance Review in Tech 'Does Not Exist'

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Performance reviews help ensure competitive compensation packages for specialists and keep them motivated. We have this process set up perfectly in the company – but still, it comes with a bunch of challenges every time. A review of the achievements often involves subjective estimation or reveals a lack of specific details. We’ve tried to come up with an effective (though not perfect) formula. Hopefully, it would be helpful to some struggling with similar issues.

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Kate Zalozna

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It’s only natural to look for new, better opportunities, especially for the generation raised believing in meritocracy and surrounded by motivational influencers.

Such a positive attitude is a part of the force driving every tech team. People, who keep learning and work hard, show better results.

They aim to achieve the set goals, meanwhile expecting career growth with proper compensation and acknowledgment. Regular performance assessments are the common way for companies to ensure those.

Tech Companies Need Regular Performance Assessments, Here’s Why

A performance assessment is a way to review the achievements of every team member and reward them. Thus, it is a way of keeping people motivated. But there’s more to this.

Performance reviews allow managers to learn whether clients are satisfied with the cooperation. Thus, outsourcing companies can prevent potential issues or resolve them at early stages. These reviews also help improve employees’ experience in the company. You get to know the moods in the team and create a better working environment.

Long story short, regular performance assessments are a way to obtain valuable insights. But there is one catch. Everything would work that perfectly in a perfect world. Meanwhile, there are a number of factors that can interfere with a smooth performance assessment.

I’m certain the details of this process are individual for every company. The concerns and difficulties, however, seem to be common.

In this post, I will share how the assessment review goes in QA Madness, tell about the frequent controversies, and solutions to them. Hopefully, you can find something useful to apply in your practice.

How the Process Goes

We have biannual performance reviews that consist of one-to-one meetings with QA specialists, client feedback, and overall market analysis.

1. Client Feedback

Our Customer Care Specialist emails brief questionnaires to clients. We have specific criteria for evaluation and a scale for every criterion. Clients’ comments allow us to see what is okay and what requires improvements.

2. Team Feedback

When it comes to QA outsourcing, companies can opt to work with one or several specialists.

In the latter case, the HR team communicates with a person’s teammates to get a peer review of their performance, contribution, skills, growth, and how easy and satisfying it is to work with this person in one team. A detached view from a tech specialist is always helpful.

3. Soft Skills

The evaluation of soft skills addresses only work-related moments. We pay attention to the abilities that help a person do their job well.

It is not about participating in team-building and corporate activities or having an outgoing personality, but being collaborative and able to work in a team.

4. Specialist’s Preferences

Listen to a person whose progress you are evaluating. Don’t let people feel ignored or become indifferent, as if there is no opportunity to change the things that bother them.

We ask how a specialist estimates their professional progress, what they have learned during the last six months, what salary they expect to get after the assessment, etc.

5. Market Analysis

We also take into account what’s happening on the market. Good specialists are always in high demand.

Businesses compete for people and start offering better conditions. Salaries often become one of the central arguments in counteroffers. Thus, you need to know how much the specialists earn to suggest competitive payments.

What Makes the Performance Assessment Difficult?

The above criteria allow us to make a comprehensive and objective evaluation of every QA specialist.

Still, there’s a human factor in every kind of feedback, and sometimes parties perceive a person’s contribution differently. So what can go wrong? Unfortunately, a lot of things.

1. Client Feedback

Clients aren’t always ready to spend time thinking through the questions. Eventually, it is easier for some to put a high score on every criterion, without realizing that their feedback weighs a lot in the decision-making process. A worst-case scenario is when people don’t fill in the questionnaires and we don’t receive any feedback. In this situation, the list of criteria for evaluation is getting shorter.

Even if we get a response, we may face another controversy: a QA specialist doesn’t agree with the feedback. In this case, we always hear out their arguments. A person should have an opportunity to share their ideas and explain their POV. It is especially important when suspecting that a person’s work wasn’t appreciated appropriately.

2. Manager Feedback

If there are several people on the project, we request feedback from a QA Lead/Manager or teammates. If a person works alone, there is no way to get an outside perspective on their contribution and progress.

The solution is to estimate the difficulty of a project and a person’s progress in terms of knowledge and skills. In most cases, it may be quite complicated if you haven’t worked with the project.

3. Converting Skills Into Money

How do define the economic value of this or that skill? What is the equivalent of progress in cash? Indeed, there is no fixed price you can pay for the knowledge of a particular set of tools and skills.

If you take two CVs with pretty much the same content, you may be puzzled about the different salaries these people have. A person with a particular skill set and more experience will have a higher salary. It doesn't happen because one person has been through more assessments than the other.

The years of experience usually equal better soft skills. They also imply that the specialist is likely to make decisions faster and rely on their previous experience when working with a product.

4. Criteria Values and Weight

I’ve mentioned that our team has specific criteria to use for the assessment. These are the quality of the work, client and peer feedback, the complexity of the work, etc.

Setting the values and weight for each criterion is problematic – again, because of the subjective factor.

In particular:

  • We work with a variety of projects of different difficulties. Comparing specialists across the projects shouldn't result in any kind of depreciation of a person’s work and skills.

  • Clients have different expectations and varying requirements for a specialist. This fact determines the feedback they share.

  • If a client hasn't had QA specialists in their team before, they are more likely to be satisfied with the work, even if there is room for improvement.

  • If a project is complicated and a client is too demanding, people can be working in stressful conditions. Managers should take this fact into account, too.

It is difficult to find a specific value for every criterion. Every scale should consider some individual project details. Still, it is necessary to set goals that will motivate people to grow professionally, and the assessment is a good way to do it.

When the team is small, it is easy for a QA Lead or CTO to keep track of everyone’s work and progress. As the team starts growing, it becomes more complicated. One person will not have enough time and energy to be engaged in every process and estimate everything objectively. We need to engage more people, and thus, we get more variables.

5. Market Dictates Its Own Rules

The market determines the acceptable salary for a particular position. We track the changes, follow the trends, and analyze the activity on the market to stay aware of the situation. If an average salary increases for some reason, we cannot ignore this fact and wait for a planned assessment.

The demand for good specialists in software development and quality assurance is outgrowing the number of people available. If a company fails to offer a competitive package at the right time, it risks losing a valuable team member. And since people can work from anywhere now, people have more options to choose from.

6. Unexpected Circumstances

The variety of those is quite vast. People can approach you requesting some upgrades in their working conditions, environment, or package with different requests and at different times. For example:

  • A person has paid for a tool subscription or bought a personal laptop that is used for work as well. Now, they would like to get full or partial compensation for the purchase.

  • A software tester grows significantly compared to the previous performance review and feels a bit bored or limited in terms of progress on the current project.

  • A specialist gets an offer from another company and considers taking it.

In each case, you need to start with analyzing the situation carefully and thinking about the true motivation behind the request.

It is perfectly okay to appeal to the market situation, one’s own experiences, or counter-offers to prove your point. We are always open to a conversation. We may escalate the assessment on demand.

As for purchases, however, it is not often the relevant case. We provide people with necessary devices and resources, so trying to compensate for the lacking resources without telling a Manager, QA Lead, or CTO first is unreasonable.

What About Hitting a Glass Ceiling?

TBH, I don’t think it is the case for the IT industry (or at least not the case for our company).

There is always an opportunity to grow professionally, and we find ways for people to realize their potential. It always comes with certain fulfillment and financial compensation. For example:

  • A software tester can learn new tools and technologies that appear on the market and promise to become widely used.

  • A specialist can switch a project and start working with more complicated products if they feel like they’ve outgrown the project.

  • Manual software testers can become Automation QA specialists.

  • Another option is to undertake more managerial duties, becoming a QA Lead, a Business Analyst, etc.

  • A person can take on some other tasks, like onboarding, education, etc.

Long story short, there is a maximum salary a company can allow within a particular project. If a person wants to earn more and to do something new, they can take on a few different responsibilities, switch to a different project, get promoted to a new position, etc.

In other words, hitting a glass ceiling is only possible if a person doesn’t want to learn or undertake other duties. And as a rule, they’ve reached a milestone where they feel perfectly comfortable with what they’ve already got.

The Performance Assessment Process In A Nutshell

If a person requests a salary increase or other changes to their current offer, we analyze the situation rationally.

  • Is the request reasonable? Is it feasible at the moment?
  • How difficult would it be to replace a person on a project if they decide to leave?
  • Is there a specialist with a similar skill set in the team or company?
  • Do we have relevant opportunities to offer for this person?
  • Can the company support their ambitions?

We started biannual performance assessments and came up with questionnaires to introduce the systemized improvements. And to the great extent, they help us address all the above mentioned questions seasonally – exactly when we expect to focus on these issues, only with some exceptions. In general, such an approach helps figure out what a person expects in advance, long before any tension arises or starts accumulating.

As for the criteria for the performance reviews, we estimate:

  • The quality of test documentation.
  • The efficiency of testing.
  • The speed of work.
  • Communication with other team members.
  • Proactivity.

It proved to be an ultimate list of hard and soft skills. Though short, it allows us to come up with a comprehensive review.

Bottom Line: How to Make the Assessments the Least Stressful Possible?

QA Madness has a tried and tested performance assessment system that proved to work best for all the parties.

And still, it is stressful every time – for both HR and QA specialists. Some of them are trying to do their best to collect unbiased and fact-based feedback, while others are waiting for results that are based on quite abstract notions.

I’m not sure this process can be a hundred percent stress-free. Even our final refined performance assessment strategy doesn’t always work perfectly in real life but that’s the best system that works so far.

In case you are reading this and wondering why it sounds so problematic, you either came up with a mind-blowing foolproof assessment strategy or need to pay closer attention to what’s going on with your team. I sincerely hope it is the first option and you’ll share the secrets with the others 😉


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