Life at a Start-up : Assessing and Appraising our Development Team

In this series I have written about  our hiring process, but now I want to talk about what work with developers once they are at the company. Once developers, or indeed any staff member starts at your company, you have  a duty to develop them over time. Buying Butler is no different. I have worked for many companies both large and small and seen some good examples of staff development, but also some terrible examples. Naturally I want Buying Butler to be a  good example.

Life at a Startup - Buying Butler / RightIndem

Life at a Startup – Buying Butler / RightIndem

I run the development teams across both Buying Butler and RightIndem, so I am going to be talking about how I work with my developers specifically, but anything I say here is just as applicable to any type of skilled knowledge worker. Like most companies, we conduct 1 to 1’s with our staff. We use these as a way to give feedback but also offer some coaching if required and to see how developers are progressing with objectives. When giving feedback, I feel this should generally be positive in the 1 to 1. If there is anything bad that you need to bring to their attention then this should have happened prior to a 1 to 1. This meeting shouldn’t contain any bad surprises in my opinion.

We assess our developers in a few ways though their objectives. Their main objective is against delivery and we can easy track this through our work management system Visual Studio Team Services. The outcome here is simple. Are they completing the work that is assigned to them to a high standard. The other area is by developing a custom training plan per developer. At Buying Butler we offer Pluralsight licenses to each member of staff and we expect them to use them. As part of the 1 to 1 process we talk about the skills that are required now for the company and what skill we think we will need in the future. This is based on both requirements of the company and also technical areas that are of interest to the developer.

As an example, we are doing a lot of work on moving part of our platform to React.JS and Redux. All the developers involved in this are doing a lot of training on that subject but each developer also has specific interests on top of this work. For example, I have one developer who is really owning the research, tools and techniques around unit testing the front end. I have another developer who has shown a lot of interest in security and building secure websites. Another developer is really going in-depth with building Web API’s built on top of OData 4. By supporting the developers with this they are more motivated as they have ownership of different areas that are relevant to the business and we support them in training and developing in these areas.

Our Pluralsight subscription is a corporate one, so that means I have access to a dashboard which allows me to see what courses people have watched and how far through them they are. This then feeds back into our appraisal process. Have they kept up with their training plan. When we recruit developers, part of what we are looking for in a candidate is a passion for learning. It is an essential requirement as technology moves at an incredible pace so we want people who can keep up and enjoy doing so.

I have worked at many companies, and my last company was the worst for this, where it comes to appraisal time, there is a big panic from people trying to gather evidence and feedback from people. This is a complete waste  of time and effort in my opinion. For me, each 1 to 1 is more like a mini appraisal where we go through the developers delivery and training objectives and we measure how they are getting on. I keep notes on this. When it comes to appraisal time we just go through the notes and summarize. An appraisal should be a quick and painless process for everyone and not something that should be feared once a year. By working with our staff continually we can develop them, motivate them and achieve a good delivery record for the company.

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