How to Track the Team’s Mood with a Niko-niko Calendar

Example of a Niko-niko Calendar for Teams

You can track a lot of stuff in Agile projects, like lead time, velocity, bugs and so on. Tracking those metrics helps the team to identify problems early and without them it’s harder to improve.

The faster you can get those numbers, the faster you can analyse them, look ahead and steer the project in a better direction. This is all about tightening the feedback loop. The faster you get feedback, the faster you can react.

Feelings are the fastest feedback I know.

Ever worked in a software development team which produced a very ugly bug? I mean those kind of bugs where you realize that the whole team will have to work hard for days and weeks to get rid of it. Yes, we all have been in that kind of situation, at least once. And there is always one team member who says something like “I knew it. I knew it before. I had this very bad feeling about exactly that thing…” And it’s not uncommon that some other team member then will nod in agreement, because they had a bad feeling about it, too. Most of the team felt the elephant in the room long before the mess occurred.

It would be great to track those feelings before it comes to the big mess, right? May I introduce the Niko-niko calendar 

Niko-niko calendar, also known as smiley calendar or happiness index, is a tool to track the mood of a team. Nikoniko is Japanese ideophone for smiling. You set up a calendar, and each team member tracks her mood after each working day with a smiley. That could be a happy :-), straight :-| or frowning smiley :-(.

You can create such a tool in a few steps:

  1. Get a regular calendar and put on a wall in a highly visible place in the team room. Hang it up somewhere near the exit, so the team members have easy access to it when they go home in the evening.
  2. Divide the space of each day in as many fields as you have team members.
  3. Put pens close to the calendars, so the tracking would not fail because there was no pen at hand. You might want to use three color pens: red for the frowning smiley, black or yellow for the straight smiley, and green for the happy smiley. That way the team’s mood is visible even more.
  4. Track the team’s mood. Let the team make a working agreement or a policy, something like: “Whenever a team member calls it a day, before she walks out of the room, she draws a smiley in one of the fields of the calendar’s day, expressing her average mood of the day.”

Now start tracking. That’s it, the team is now tracking their mood.

(Hint: You might want to get one of it-agile’s team calendars. They’re designed to support teams, with rows for each team member, where they could draw their smiley into. On the downside, the calendars are in German, but on the upside, they’re free – and you’ll understand them even if you don’t understand any German.)

In regular intervals (like e.g. in each retrospective) the team gathers to analyse the data. Here are a few examples in a team with five members, where the average over the last period was …

  • … one happy smiley, four frowning smileys (or one frowning smiley and four happy smileys): What’s going on here? Does the team have an outsider? Why is there such a big diversion?
  • … all frowning smileys: Uh, bad karma in the team. Why? What is upsetting them?
  • … all happy smileys, and a broken sprint, angry customers, bad code, lots of bugs: Why are they happy in the middle of a mess? Why don’t they care about their work?

In my experience, data from a Niko-niko calendar is a huge opportunity for reflection, and it’s an amazing fast one, too. You’ll get feedback from changes like altering the environment immediately. In case of a good change, the team’s mood will lighten up, and in case of a bad change, … well, you get the point. And with a Niko-niko calendar the team will get immediate feedback on its mood.

To sum this up: Niko-niko calendars are a great complement to other metrics like lead time, velocity, bugs and so on. They help to make the team’s mood visible for better reflection. Niko-niko calendars are in many cases much faster when it comes to indicate problems. They are easily built and ready to use in almost no time.

If you haven’t tried a Niko-niko calendar, you might want to give it a try. If you have tried it, please share your experience in the comments.

Read further:

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About Bernd Schiffer

Bernd Schiffer is consultant, trainer and coach for Agile Software Development in Melbourne, Australia. Learn more about him on his personal homepage, have a look at his company Bold Mover, or contact him on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, XING or LinkedIn.

55 Responses to How to Track the Team’s Mood with a Niko-niko Calendar

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  2. Tudor says:

    How do you make sure that what a person will be sincere with it’s feelings?
    It might happen that a person is angry or upset about something, but will report as happy because it’s afraid that he will have to explain to his boss why, and wants to avoid an embarrassing discussion about the real cause..

    • I can’t make that sure. Also I can’t make sure that a person should use such the niko-niko calendar in the first place. I would ask the team to experiment with a niko-niko calendar. If the team don’t want to experiment with it, there’s almost nothing I can do to change their unwillingness directly. If, on the other hand, the team does want to experiment with it, I don’t see why they wouldn’t be sincere – given, that the team’s decision is made with consensus/konsent.

      Like I said in the post, this tool is useful as data for better reflection. If you have people who want to better reflect things, this tool might be of help. If you have people who are afraid of reflection, the tool is useless, but not because of the tool, but because of your environment.

      • Roberto Sanchez says:

        Great post!, have a question, Why don’t we have a table with faces of anonymous persons?, at the end these are the feelings of the team, its means one bad feeling affects in certain way the others participants, after check that a consider quantity of sad faces are present in the team we can make a retrospective, well probably I am wrong.
        Are you allow me to translate this in Spanish?

        • Sounds interesting. If you try it, please make sure that you’ll tell me about the outcomes.

          Sure, I’d be honoured if you translate this post into Spanish! Please make sure to link to this post.

  3. Matt Van Horn says:

    I’ve actually been developing an app to track this kind of thing over the last couple of weeks. However, I was thinking it might be better for the updates to be anonymous. Wouldn’t someone feel uncomfortable saying they were the only unhappy person on a team?

    • Matt, sorry for taking so long for the answer. Wanted to write a blogpost about it, but that’s not gonna happen in the near future, so I’ll just answer you here.

      If someone would feel uncomfortable in publicly saying that they are unhappy, then a) you have a serious problem in your team (i.e. distrust, no open and honest communication, etc.), and b) you should allow for anonymous updates. The problem with anonymous updates is that it might be difficult to find out who to talk to if you want to interpret the results. But I’d always value anonymous feedback more than no feedback. In the long run you should build a safe environment where people don’t feel uncomfortable to express their feelings – a really difficult goal to achieve, but very worth trying!

      Hope that helps, Bernd!

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  5. Hi Bernd,

    as a fun node.js project we implemented exactly that. SmileyReport

    SmileyReport requires no registration, is completely anonymous and free of any charge. If you go to our website you will find a demo report.

    Your last blog post response made me think to also support non-anonymous reports but we make good experiences (e.g. in retrospectives) with our current anonymous version.

    Greetings and all the best in down under,

  6. Hi Bernd,

    we did tried a Niko-Niko calendar in one of my teams and it gives a very good starting point for the feedback retrospective. Without this calendar it took 30 minuts to warm up.

    After this excercise I realized that it might be interesting to have my own, personal mood calendar. And I have created a tool for it:

    In addition to the Niko-Niko calendar it adds a short description to the mood.
    It brings the story back when doing a retrospective or looking for repeating reasons.


  7. An says:

    This is such an awesome idea, I hope my team will participate in this.
    I want to share a story with you and get your opinion. I used to work in a virtual team environment where the company was relatively unstable, employee morale was very low and people were getting fired left right and centre and nobody knew why. Management was unsupportive and the blame game was prominent.
    It would have been tough to even ask someone how they feel because the focus was so much on delivery and saying the wrong thing will get you out of the door. I personally found it hard to open up myself so playing the role of a positive leader was even tougher. I found it quite tough to implement agile in that environment as the emphasis on people and trust was not supported. Management preferred to micromanage and everything was on I will believe you when I see the work done basis. I did implement a couple of projects using Agile for that company but it was uncomfortable and unpleasant and at times unprofessional and it made me question everything. You commented above that if you can’t get your team to talk openly about their mood there is a bigger problem. I agree and I suspect many companies out there still have those problems out there. A culture is a culture and is not going to be fixed within a short amount of time…what do you suggest in that scenario? In my scenario I left the company.

    • Hi Susan.

      Thanks for the comment and for sharing your story. And that’s quite a story :) I heard similar stories a lot and I worked in environments like the one you described. There’s this old saying “Love it, change it, or leave it.” Loving such a scenario is – at least for us – off the table. You left it, and that’s an option. Before I’d leave I’d try to change the environment to change the behaviour of the people in the environment. There are several techniques to do so, e.g. have a look on this (long) post about AMIs and especially about Theory X & Y and Lewin’s Equation.

      One thing you mentioned made me think that you might have left a little bit too late. You wrote that “it was uncomfortable and unpleasant and at times unprofessional and it made me question everything.” This gave me the impression that you was already slipping with your work. Whenever you notice something like this where your energy is decreasing, you should make these feelings explicit like “Hey guys, I want to support and help you, but I have the impression that you don’t want that and this spoils all my energy and I’m messing up. Could we please talk about our relationship and how we want to work together?” If they value your work, help, support, etc., they’ll show you that immediately. If they don’t value it then you should leave because change is not an option anymore.

      And, please keep in mind, that’s only what I got from your short story. I think there’s plenty behind this story, enough for a full day work for a coach like me :)

      Hope that I was of at least a little bit of help,

  8. Nicolas says:


    Don’t you think it should work better if team member put their smiley anonymously ?

    • In general: no. In an environment of trust, there should be no need to hide emotions. If open smileys don’t work for you, that’s a sign that there are bigger problems underneath the surface. And if you get rid of open smileys and use anonymous ones, you’d get rid of the indicator for the bigger problems.

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  16. Renae says:

    With little serious thought on this idea, it’s a loser. First off, why is it your business how an employee feels? Isn’t that up to him or her to share this information? It is actually an invasion of privacy to request this information. Secondly, this negates the importance of communicating like an adult. It is quite juvenile to communicate as if we’re back in grade school, passing notes of who likes who. If I’m 18, hopefully by now I’ve become versed at getting a message across when and if the situation were to arise. My children can do this effectively and they’re 2 & 5. Thirdly, it’s pronouncedly passive-aggressive. Need I say why? It makes you come to me, because of a pout and try to extract the information that way. Fourthly, it’s non-representative. This should be the ultimate killer even if you disagree with the other arguments made. Do you REALLY want an accurate representation of someone’s emotions? What if a close relative or friend just died? Do you really want to make someone broadcast to those whom they seek esteem from that they are terribly sad? They won’t, and hence, feelings get subverted to an “appropriate response”, masking the TRUE feelings in exchange for group think. Maybe I should measure the amount of erections you have while at work instead.

    • ogygoo says:

      I believe the intention here is not regarding the general feeling. It`s how you felt about what you did during the day. Professionally.
      And as a leader I do want to know how my team-mates are felling about what they are doing and how can I help them fell better with what they are doing.

      But based on your comments – You sound like manager not leader…

      • Nicolas says:

        I totally agree with Ogygoo (disclaimer, I’m the founder of TeamMood, an online niko-niko service).
        From the experience of my users (so I guess these are facts, not assumptions), the niko-niko has some success, but it surely depends on the context, and mainly 1) on how the tool is brought to the team, and 2) about what the team leader/team will do with the data.
        If the niko-niko is introduced in a top-down approach, people will probably do not adhere and they will not use the tool. You have to explain why you are introducing the tool, the rules and boundaries, and team mates have to be volunteers.
        Also, if you do not use the data, people will probably stop using the niko-niko. The best place to analyse the feedbacks is during the retrospective with the team, and have an open conversation about the variations of the moods, and act on it.
        I hope this helps a bit :-)

        • Kelly says:

          Hi Nicolas, I agree, how you bring the concept to the team is very important. I’d love to know if you have any suggestions about how best to introduce something like this to the team? Cheers

          • Nicolas says:

            Hello Kelly,

            From what I learned from our user base, there 3 things to consider.
            First, explain *why* you want to do this: fun, improvement… ?
            Then, ask people to be volunteers and do not force them.
            Lastly, make something of the data. For instance, plan a short meeting with the whole team to openly talk about the data. The best place for that is during the retrospective.

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  29. Withheld Name says:

    Are we in grade school? I disagree with the concept – unless of course you come up with an app to tell if the data in your app is reliable. How about having a meaningful retrospective where people feel safe in opening up about their concerns – there business concerns about the project and its technology, iteration issues, etc. Not being so generic as to be concerned about other things like a possible spouse divorce, of JOB LOSS – now there is a culture killer. Hey how about building apps that actually make the company money.

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  31. Nico Falbe says:

    Looks good on paper and blogs ( definitely a big crowd puller for a blogger).
    But in reality it is the vice -versa. My scrum team being cross functional always has something to do, sometimes other’s tasks or tasks which lay slightly beyond their boundaries.
    This inturn doesnt make them “workplace a pleasurable playground ” everyday and many a times they would not even be in the mood to come upto to the wall.
    In reality a SM, what I found more reliable and efficient is ” connect with your team members”, show them your shoulders are always free for them unburden themselves or you have patient ears for their all sorts of concerns.
    Here you catch the jist/pulse of the team & definitely not with smileys & charts on wall !!!!

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  37. Wesley says:

    Definitely a great list, never seen it used in real life – but has great possibilities so will surely consider it.

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