The Self-Assignment Experiment

Kayla DiPilato

Last week we wrote about a backlog experiment during which we eliminated time estimations from tasks, but that is not the only recent change to our processes. We also began self-assigning our tasks. In order to implement this, each project manager still creates tasks for their projects and ranks them by priority for iterations. However, rather than assigning tasks to a specific employee the manager leaves them unassigned and on the first day of the iteration employees can explore the available tasks and assign them to themselves. We have been using this process for several weeks, have collected feedback from our employees, made improvements to the process, and settled into a system that is working well for our team.

Our CEO, Joseph Young, was inspired to implement this procedure at our company after reading about its use at GitHub. They began using this process because it allows employees to select tasks that exist at the intersection of their interests and the company’s needs. This gives employees a high level of freedom and can keep them more engaged by allowing them to work specifically on their areas of interest. A concern with assigning tasks is that it is easy to fall into a pattern where employees are always working on the same types of tasks that have already been identified as their area of strength. This can leave employees bored and limit opportunities for growth. We hope that by allowing employees to self-assign tasks they can work on projects that they enjoy, while continuously improving their skills.

Before we started this process, we were concerned that self-assignment may mean that some critical tasks go unclaimed and uncompleted. As a result, we trained our project managers to check in regularly on how tasks are being claimed. If something important has been unclaimed, project managers are empowered to reach out to someone who may be interested in the task and ask them if they are willing to take it. This is one way we make sure that important client work is still completed while giving as much freedom as possible.

After a few weeks of self-assignment, we distributed an anonymous survey to all of our employees to hear their honest opinions of the process. Overall, many people were enjoying self-assigning tasks and having new autonomy over their work. However, one problem that several people encountered was that they often felt they did not have enough context to start on tasks straight away and, with so many options, became overwhelmed by the idea of asking around for context on all of them before deciding. After a few brainstorming sessions, we decided to implement an optional, bi-weekly Monday meeting (that aligns with our two week iterations) during which project managers provide context for projects to any employee who needs more information before taking on tasks. This has eliminated a lot of ambiguity about different projects and has enabled our employees to feel more confident in their selections.

Overall, the benefits of self-assignment have outweighed the few hiccups and we plan to continue to use this method for our backlog. Do you use self-assignment at your company? Share your tips and tricks with us on Twitter, @kuviocreative.

Kuvio Creative is a remote web design and development agency that uses innovation and creativity to bring our clients’ visions to life. Get to know us here.

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