Information Technology Dark Side

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The Dungeon Master Performance Review

July 31st, 2006 · 4 Comments

Yet another performance review idea – it’s midyear’s at my employer. This is an idea I’ve been working on for a long time, and it’s one for which I really have to give someone else the credit. Allen Childress, this one’s for you. Thanks for the idea!

Dungeons and Dragons (and other RPG’s) give us a pretty good model for understanding progression in the different aspects of a profession. If you’ll remember, characters progressed through a fairly standard set of titles, regardless of whether they were a warrior, acolyte, or heck, even a troll. It went something like this:

Neophyte – total newcomer. No skills, no experience, just interest.
Novice – some skill, no real experience, but has some demonstratable potential, at least enough that he (or she) can be formally considered for an Apprenticeship.
Apprentice – welcome to formal training! An apprentice is usually paired with a journeyman, who can teach her the ropes. Before long, she can do a lot of work on her own, with guidance and supervision from a Journeyman. They don’t always know the right way to respond to an emergency – in other words, they frequently make mistakes in the heat of the battle.
Journeyman – A journeyman knows their job and can execute it skillfully without supervision. They know what to do under pressure and are able to tackle tough enemies, and train others, but they have not yet made an innovative contribution to their organization or field.
Master – A master has in some way transcended from the student of a discipline to a teacher and influencer of a discipline. She teaches not only what she has been taught, but also what she has discovered. Her influence adds to the understanding of the discipline of which she is a master.
Grand Master – A grand master doesn’t just influence a discipline. He creates them, and spreads their influence beyond the organization to which he belongs. There are very few grand masters in any discipline.

So, what does this have to do with performance reviews? For me, a lot. I think that it is really pretty easy to take a particular aspect of my profession and figure out where I am. This applies equally to soft and hard skills.

Take software development for instance. I’m not a master. I might be a journeyman, if I’m lucky. How do I know this? Because I can take an assignment and get it done without any help. And I can teach others to do it too, and even lead them through the development process, all the way from beginning to end.

Anyway, it is possible to break a profession into a number of attributes and systematically evaluate ourselves. Here are some attributes I chose:

Software Development
Developing Others

You can customize this list to fit the things that your organization values in its employees easily, or to fit the role your evaluating. The point is, it’s not hard to figure out where you stand.

Performance Review Template

I built a simple performance review template based on this idea. I also added a few other sections that I think are important:

Strengths & Weaknesses
Successes & Failures
Special Contributions

and some other stuff.

I’m very curious if anyone out there would ever use this sort of review approach. I think it’s a lot more useable than many formats I’ve seen.

One other thing I’d add to this template if I hadn’t already uploaded it: a self-evaluation section for every attribute where you fill it out for yourself. This helps to identify where you and your manager see your qualities differently: you might think you’re a master tester, and he thinks you’re a neophyte. That’s a good thing to know.

One more thought. The D&D performance scale is also good for figuring out what you want to be when you grow up. It may never become necessary for you to be a journeyman leader if all you ever want to do is design and build web applications. But, if you want to manage projects, you’d better figure out a way to develop your leadership skills.

Another point, that comes by way of Mike Kelly. It’s important to develop a sense of what’s good enough. Journeyman-level skills may be good enough for a lot of roles. What’s the point of becoming a master web developer if you really want to manage testing teams? Better that you become a master tester and journeyman leader, if you ask me.

Let me know if you find this idea useful, or if you find some way to work it into your organization’s review process.

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Tags: Job Advice

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Allen // Sep 5, 2006 at 12:07 am

    Thanks for the reference! Your straight forward honesty always impresses me. I learned that list playing Ultima Online, but I expect they got the list from some form of martial arts.

    The title that is often forgotten by everyone, and fascinates me most is “Adept”. That amazing point where one “gets it”…. things begin to flow…. little “oopsie”s transform into “secret trick”s. Memorization of Journeyman transitions into the Precision of Expert and finally the Smoothness of Adept (Kuk Sool Wan). The spinning glass of the bartender… the use of natural energies around to do the work. In my opinion, really where the genesis of magic and creativity can be found. Magic and Adept’s tricks often share the same element of hiding the item for a period of time until it is needed again… like the Hashing algorythm in computer science.

    We are able to create “Expert” systems…. but noone has yet to fabricate a “Creative” system.

  • 2 Allen Bruce Childress, Jr. // Apr 30, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    Just a note for Allen’s Dad. He may be onto something. As I get older, which is a good thing, I realize that I ahve developed certain skils in my unique part of the world, and if I restrict my field am at least an expert and can sometimes “invent” solutions instead of just doing it the same old way each time. For one thing it allows me to work faster and with a few refinements in most cases better. I don’t work in computer programing like Allen but I do havve my fields and since I found this site on my own, I do ahve some basic computer skills well above most 65 year olds that I know.

    You can pass this on to Allen and see what he says.

    A. Bruce Childress, Jr.

  • 3 Dan Weese // Apr 6, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    I tried to view your D and D performance review doc from July 2006, but the link is dead. Can you email it to me? I’m struggling with the best way to review my development team.

  • 4 David Christiansen // Apr 6, 2008 at 10:36 pm

    Thanks Dan! I’ve fixed the link!

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