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.

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