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My company is focused on "top performers" - people who finish most tasks on the shortest time. It's a competitive environment and that's not unusual for software companies. We are told frequently who finished with "best" results.

The problem is I'm assigned on multiple projects. On both of them there are people who work only on the single project. Some of them push themselves hard - late nights, weekends, you get the picture. My contributions on the other hand are very small - constant context switching during the day, meetings that overlap, etc. The result of this is I'm on the bottom of finished tasks on all the projects.

While my contributions are valued on all the projects and that's important for the company, I feel like thrown under the bus. Some of my performance reviews were not particularly glowing because of not being "top performer". It's not easy to explain that experience did not substitute hard work. Also it's not my job to explain that people work extra hours.

How should I prepare for my next performance review, since tasks output is the most important metric?

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    Probably the only way to translate the value of what you're doing into a language your co. will understand is to add the word "manager" to your title. E.g. project manager, product manager, process manager, cross functional knowledge domain coordination manager (just made that up)... you get ther idea. I mean it though - if what you do doesn't fit into the code-monkey paradigm, you will inevitably be short-changed by any formula for computing reward. Tweaking the formula won't fix this. Good answers below.
    – Pete W
    Mar 12 at 14:37
  • @JoeStrazzere I'm not trying to outcompete others, but to justify my work. Mar 12 at 15:45
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    @JoeStrazzere has context switching between multiple streams of work never affected your productivity? Mar 12 at 17:19
  • @JoeStrazzere that is great to hear. It is a very well documented/researched phenomen though, so entirely possibly the OP is suffering from it Mar 12 at 20:39
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You can try arguing that the system isn't fair, but it's virtually impossible to design any system for ranking developers that isn't unfair to someone, or capable of being gamed in some way.

If I were you, I'd look carefully at what the reward is for being a 'top performer'. My guess is that it is little or no extra money, and certainly not enough to justify the extra hours. Most likely the boss has just discovered a technique that motivates some people to work extra hours for free.

In your review, you can tell your boss that you feel demotivated because the nature of your work (and the fact that you don't/can't work long hours) means you never get any thanks. Most likely he will privately reassure you that you're a valuable part of the team. You can tell him that you would prefer to feel part of a team rather than competing, but he's unlikely to change unless the negative affect outweighs the free work he's getting from other people.

Your boss knows that he'd have to pay the market rate to replace you (plus a year of low productivity while the new person settles in) so do some research and ask for the market rate if you're not already getting it.

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In a purely mathematical sense, wouldn't you just ask your manager to create a list that aggregates the number of completed tasks for each project, to take into consideration the fact you work on multiple projects.

The only factor that hinders your work output is it brings inefficiencies. You should research how and why, and be prepared to discuss that.

Stating that your coworkers work longer hours, and thus putting in more effort, really doesn't help your argument that it's the nature of the work, that is leading to different output, or the appearance of different output. If anything, it solidifies them as top performers.

I don't understand what argument you'd make regarding experience.

Another note, maybe there is a cultural aspect at play, but I've never worked at an organisation that fosters competition between employees to complete the most amount of work. I believe studies have shown that this can lead to sub-optimal outcomes.

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  • I have more experience than most of my colleagues in the technologies used. Mar 12 at 6:29
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My contributions on the other hand are very small - constant context switching during the day, meetings that overlap, etc.

That seems the problem - you acknowledge your contributions are small, but blame it on meetings and context switch. If that is really the case, you should ask your manager to assign you to a single project and see you shine.

We are told frequently who finished with "best" results.

Some of them push themselves hard - late nights, weekends

Also it's not my job to explain that people work extra hours

But remember, just you working on a single project will not change these behavioral traits of either the management or your peers.

How should I prepare for my next performance review, since tasks output is the most important metric?

Go in with hard data - time spent in meetings for you vs other devs (could be upto 2X), total contributions across projects, and suggest the manager to put you on a single project.

In the meantime, if you feel the peer pressure will continue to remain in excess even if you work on a single project, look out elsewhere.

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  • Blaming just the most obvious things. Mar 12 at 6:51
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What you are experiencing is a common problem for cross-functional folks or those who, like you, work across multiple projects. It's like playing in a team sport where you have more of a "defense" role and thus aren't scoring points/home-runs and getting the biggest accolades.

If you aren't underpaid, if you enjoy the work and the team, if your boss and co-workers value your input, then maybe don't be so concerned about performance reviews that aren't "glowing".

The problem with performance reviews is that so many people try to force them to be "objective" by coming up with trite metrics or KPI's. In your situation, you are claiming that it's the "number of completed tasks". The problem is that performance in high-function work is NOT objective. It's intrinsically subjective. There are many dimensions and some of them are more about the value you provide in things that aren't reducible to a score. If the management in your org is wise, they will realize that, but they may not be able to get past the HR performance metric bureaucracy and its relationship to bonuses and status.

If you really feel that your work is not being sufficiently recognized, you can always make a case for what kind of work assignments would help you to realize that kind of recognition. Whatever the case, don't make your work self-image hinge on performance reviews, that's a recipe for disappointment.

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Every performance system can be gamed. This one is dangerously poised. Fast answers often come with embedded errors that don't appear until they become the next work item.

The problem you have is part of the company's culture. Odds are you can't fix this, without making the entire company value something different. It's not even certain you could describe how to rank individuals effectively (I'm not even touching the fairly side of things) under your ideal system.

If the performance reviews hurt you, realize that people are probably trying to poach the fastest fixes; and, as a context switcher, you're unlikely to be available to watch the queue for the fastest-to-fix issues. If you can identify a way skim these tasks from the pool, you might improve your rankings. Odds are someone else on your team has discovered this; and, you'll create a lot of in-team conflict trying to "steal" their technique.

If the culture doesn't change, and you can't adapt to it, it's time to move on. This company seems designed to burn out the people who can't fit into the one or two niches that position people for fastest turn around.

Good, fast, or cheap is typically the 3 way trade off. You can adjust for two to be delivered, but all three is typically not going to happen. They want fast, and you're cost isn't fluctuating, so the faster you go, the less Good you can deliver. It is amazing, but many companies can still be effective with sub-par solutions, as they fold the cost into the future by generating more work that needs to be done "even faster". Occasionally it all falls apart, but many companies can survive for decades with this setup.

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How should I prepare for my next performance review, since tasks output is the most important metric?

I been in a similar situation as you but in my case, I had multiple managers. Is that true for you as well?

If you have multiple managers who are doing all these projects, I would try to talk to your main manager (if you have one) or at least someone who you think can understand your situation. Tell them that you are working on multiple projects for multiple people and you cannot meet that goal because you're working on so many projects at once.

I think if you have a sit down before the review, perhaps your manager can write a more favorable one that you are working on multiple projects for multiple managers and in that context, you are doing well.

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