April 11, 2009

Bonus Evaluations

The final system is arguably the most controversial, but accurately mimics systems in some companies. In many companies, salaries are "low", while a good portion of compensation is in yearly bonuses and/or commission. These are used to reward results and encourage improvement. In Design Studio, the PMs would be given a set amount of bonus money points. These points would be distributed to teams and team members based on achievement and improvement. PMs would need to defend these choices to the other PMs saying why their team deserves more points. It would essentially put the Design Studio grading on a sort of curve. The PM could choose to give each team member a "B", or (more likely) set distinct grades.
This would require extensive PM communication and rely on their ability to accurately justify their teams' progress and results. They would also need to know each team member and their activities very well, more than in the current system. This would still require them to evaluate their team, but on their own terms. (perhaps with a previous method?)
  • Competitiveness between teams can yield greater results.
  • Forces PMs to be actively involved to properly evaluate teams.
  • PMs get to defend value of their decisions.
  • Competitiveness between teams can easily become negative.
  • Team grading is truly at the discretion of their PM, there is very little standardization.
  • Results may take precedence over learning and goals.
This would work with a set of identical PMs and a purely positive competition between the teams. Unfortunately, students always question grading and would even more so if people (Lutz) broke the curve.

Big thanks to Nate for writing the majority (all) of this post. Please forgive me for being a day late in our post-a-day series about Design Studio evaluations. Please post any final comments below.


  1. I'm a bit confused on exactly how this would work. This comment assumes that the faculty has a set number of bonus points and PMs are in competition to get those points for their teams.

    I like the real world situation that this puts the PM in. He/she has a boss (faculty) who has a set amount of resources (points). His/her teams' well-being (grade) is highly dependent on his/her ability to sell the project to the boss (faculty).

  2. This would definitely set a curve in Design Studio. There would be much more competition in an environment like this, compared to a traditional class room where a teacher sets a curve.

  3. I like that you're exploring all kinds of possibilities, but this is kind of anti the environment we are trying to create. Agile teams don't exactly work well when everybody is competing with everybody else. The focus needs to be on the team, not the individual.

    Even at the team level, I don't think creating competition between teams (around grades at least) is a good idea. It would discourage knowledge sharing/transfer and encourage teams to fudge their numbers so that they look better than others. It could also jade teams that do well but "not well enough" in relation to other teams by some arbitrary metric set by the faculty/PMs.

    In a company setting, a bonus can be seen as a reward. Is a lack of bonus (or small bonus) perceived as a punishment? Is there a difference between rewarding and penalizing in both business and academics in this sense? I really don't know, but I feel like lower grades tends towards the penalty end of the scale in student perception

  4. Nate and I were stretching for ideas at this point in our series - This would be chaos in our already competitive academic environment.

    I do not think companies should build bonuses into their compensation packages. If they hire the right employee, then they would not need to waive the magical bonus clause in order to hire them. Bonuses should be a surprise - then they would be a reward, and not an optional portion of your salary.