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In my recent position as technical lead, I came to realize that some team member did not have a proper understanding of the whole process or what they thought was, was incorrect. We have experienced as well as fresh inductees. I thought it would be a good idea to create a quick quiz and test their knowledge/understanding and problem solving skills.

Is this ethically correct to do being in project manager position? The chances are some team members might perform poorly on it and as a result they may even be let go?

Should their identities be disclosed, is there another way to tackle the problem, that is assess their knowledge regarding the domain they are working in? We are talking about software engineering and technical processes.

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    The chances are some team members might perform poorly on it and as a result they may even be let go? Are you asking us if this could get people fired? Do you have hiring/firing authority as a project manager?
    – BSMP
    Jun 18, 2020 at 19:12
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    Does your company have performance reviews at some point in the year? What are you seeking to do when you carry on the tests and get the results? What's your goal on doing that?
    – DarkCygnus
    Jun 18, 2020 at 19:23
  • @BSMP I dont have the authority to fire someone but if someone peforms very poor (I have one suspect), this can be huge embarrassment for him and I might raise concerns at high level. DarkCygnus Yes we have performance reviews but we are a new team at this point, including myself. The tasks that we do are all critical so can't take much chances on someone lack of understanding, hence the quiz idea.
    – TheTechGuy
    Jun 18, 2020 at 19:26
  • @enthusiast I posted an answer for your consideration. Question, how come you have "a suspect"? Is this a member that has lacked behind on past projects? Just be sure you are not taking this personally, or wasting your work time keeping tabs on this person (even less if you are not this person's manager).
    – DarkCygnus
    Jun 18, 2020 at 19:48
  • Were these team members tested in any way prior to being hired?
    – sf02
    Jun 18, 2020 at 20:21

4 Answers 4

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From your comment:

The tasks that we do are all critical so can't take much chances on someone lack of understanding, hence the quiz idea.

If the tasks are critical then what you want is for all your team to be qualified and up-to-speed, as you well said.

With that goal in mind, doing a test to find out the level of understanding will not actually help you to fill the gaps some team members may have on the topic. What will actually help you is to instruct or teach the basic required knowledge that you want on every member.

Some sort of cheat sheet or compilation of the technologies involved I'm thinking. One that can be distributed to every member for them to read, learn and research and complement on their own, before embarking on the project/sprint/etc..

Then, if a member does not yet comprehend something, they can consult the team leader (you?) or other teammates to clarify (if they still don't get it well... then that would be a red flag for that employee).

Of course... if your (or your company's) actions would not mind replacing members with the lowest scores, then just doing a quiz could suffice (you'll have to do one to the replacement as well in order to decide I guess).

But, most likely your company is not in this position, and what actually wants is for their employees to learn and become more qualified as new projects come with time.

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  • Well said and what about it being ethically correct thing to do? May offend someone? Because I did not hire them, I am simply handling them.
    – TheTechGuy
    Jun 18, 2020 at 22:07
  • @enthusiast passing a quiz per se is not unethical; your motives on doing so may or may not be (for example, passing it with the intention of framing someone would not be quite ethical). If someone may be offended or take it the wrong way? Perhaps... depends on each of your coworkers, some may or some may not or perhaps no one will take it badly (if it's just a professional evaluation no one should take it personally). But like I suggested, a better approach would be to give more importance to teaching and communicating the required knowledge rather than trying to test it.
    – DarkCygnus
    Jun 18, 2020 at 22:35
  • the test might actually help if it is designed to spot the areas where teaching is necessary - not to root out or even identify the persons but the topics. Jun 19, 2020 at 7:59
  • @DarkCygnus true the purpose is not to root out someone but to have all the team proper understanding of everything. I pondered afterwards that I may arrange one-to-one meeting as well for knowledge transfer but the idea of quiz is still valid for me and it may improve team peformance.
    – TheTechGuy
    Jun 19, 2020 at 17:08
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Can I conduct quiz among my team to evaluate their understanding? Is this ethically correct thing to do so?

Is it ethical? Most likely yes, but why reinvent the wheel?

Just follow the PIP (Personal Improvement Plan) protocol outlined by your HR department. You already have one suspect in mind, so that means you've already caught one person not knowing what they're doing.

That's great. Now draft a PIP for that person. List the basic topic(s) that this person seemed to be deficient in. Then, list all the topics you expect that person to already be proficient in. Assign a deadline for that person to catch up and be tested on. Then, ask HR, plus anyone else who might be involved in the firing decision, to double-check the PIP before you give it out to the employee in question.

If the employee has a problem with the PIP, he'll tell you what it is. But if he doesn't have a problem with it, he'll sign it.

Once the deadline arrives, then quiz that person privately yourself (or with HR or with a manager present). Testing someone privately will help them save face in front of their colleagues. Also, testing one person is a lot easier than testing multiple people. If you test multiple people, chances are high that they'll help each other cheat on the quiz.

Not to mention, if you have multiple people on your team, chances are that those multiple people don't have the same titles and don't have the same salaries, and it wouldn't make sense to use the same standard or the same questions to test all of them either.

Also, if you test team members that don't need to be tested, you risk antagonizing the entire team. After all, it shouldn't be that hard to find the clueless members of a team if you scrutinize their pull requests or their work products long enough, or if you just talk to each of them.

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So, strictly speaking there is nothing wrong with what you're doing. You can create and apply this quiz, and you can recommend that people who do not perform well get fired. But you run a couple risks:

  1. You risk having your company or team labelled as too cutthroat. Nobody wants to work on a team or on a project where the possibility of being fired is always over their head if they don't perform at 100% on all things at all times. The way industry works, the entire point of the Industrial Revolution, is that teams can cover for each others' mistakes; if one person doesn't know something or isn't good at something, someone else on the team will train them and pick them up so that the team as a whole will improve. That's how teamwork works. What you are doing is the opposite: You are saying there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, everyone has to be the best individually or get out. That's how you get people not cooperating with each other; if I have to ask you a question because I don't know something, but asking the question might show that I don't know something and that might get me fired, then I'm more likely to try to flub through it and do a subpar job, just so I don't have to raise attention to my own lack of knowledge. So I'll deliver something that is worse than what I would have delivered if I felt comfortable simply asking someone for help.

To rectify this, the solution should not be "take a test, those with bad scores are fired". The solution should be "on this team, if you don't know something, we have a culture where you can and should speak up and ask for help, and someone else will help you; however, if it becomes very obvious that you are simply incompetent, then we'll take appropriate action; in the meantime though, feel free to collaborate".

  1. If you don't actually have the power to fire people, you may get a reputation as someone who does not work well with others. If your response to working with people who are less experienced is to immediately run to senior management and try to get them fired, you may find yourself on the way out the door instead as someone who can't work with others. At the very least, you will be recognized as such by your peers and nobody will want to work with you on your projects, and you will have a much harder time finding competent and helpful people to work with. You will eventually have your team filled with people who are begrudgingly assigned to help you, and those types of people are not the best producers. Furthermore, if you have a history with this person you are looking to target with this quiz, and your history is known, it might come off as a grudge attack on them and you'll come off as toxic.

The way to fix this is, again, to not take the idea of "if you don't know everything, then you're fired". You want to be a pleasant person to work with. If you get a reputation as being toxic, no company wants toxic employees and you may learn that lesson sooner than later.

If you choose to pursue this idea of a quiz and recommending those who fail to be fired, be very very careful with what you do with the results. To be honest, if I was senior management in your company and you came to me with this out of the blue, my concerns would be 1) Why were you making up this quiz on company time rather than doing something productive, and 2) Why were you not spending that time being constructive rather than being toxic, now get out of my office and by the way don't come to work tomorrow either. YMMV.

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Rather than test them, run micro-training sessions with them, on the topics where you see problems.

Examples:

  • remind them that everyone has to file a bug report when the find a bug - that is mandatory;
  • remind them that peer reviewes are mandatory;
  • explain again what process is expected to apply when doing XYZ task.

During these micro-trainings, provide the information from the company's processes, and remind the team where they can find the said processes, to refresh their knowledge when needed.

If you notice that some person(s) continues to underperform in spite of the micro-trainings, do the following IN ORDER:

  1. Have a discussion with the person (or each person); do not have a group chat; try to understand where is the problem, try to find a solution together with them;
  2. If the first step still fails, talk to their managers and agree to a course of action.

When you notice a problem and you take a corrective action, it is your job to handle that specific problem.

When you apply tests, you will create tension in the team, when they rank according to the test results.

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  • We are not strictly into development, it is more of monitoring and understanding the whole process, what corrective action you do when you see something wrong. But the reason why I ask because some users make silly mistakes, not really understanding the process so preparing a test seemed like a good idea to me, to improve their skills not to discourage them or pin point who is week.
    – TheTechGuy
    Jun 24, 2020 at 2:20

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