Would you go out of your house with a rain coat if it wasn’t for the weather forecast to warn you of the rain coming up? How about the stock market: would you invest in shares without checking their values and trend? Probably not.

In team management, you can have all sorts of KPIs to measure and display how well your team is doing: productivity, lead time, bugs, … Tracking those metrics helps the team to identify problems early and improve. The only one that is missing is the actual mood and motivation of your team members. And I don’t need to tell you how important it is for the good of the project!

That’s the reason why, a few years ago (in 2006 more precisely), Akinori SAKATA invented the Niko Niko calendar, a.k.a. the smiley calendar or the happiness index.

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What is the Niko-niko calendar?

The Niko-niko calendar is the application of a very important principle in Agile project management defined by american engineer and Agile expert Tom Gilb:

“Anything you need to quantify can be measured in some way that is superior to not measuring it at all.”

The measure doesn’t have to be perfect nor precise. The objective is to quantify something that wasn’t.

So, how does the Niko-niko calendar work? It’s a simple calendar with everybody’s name on it. At the end of the day, each team member is invited to share their mood of the day, sticking smilies happy 😄, straight 😬 or frowning 🙁 or color stickers on it. That’s actually where its name comes from: Niko means smile in Japanese.

The Niko-niko doesn’t provide an exact measure of the team’s mood, but it helps quantifying the well-being, morale and motivation – three factors that are usually difficult to measure.

The team’s spirit is even more important for an Agile team as the success of the project relies on it. It’s the reason why the Niko-niko calendar was first invented for Agile teams. It provides a general view of how well the team is doing, and not just at individual level.

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How to use the Niko-niko method?

The Niko-niko must follow some principles:

  • Everyone’s mood should be visible to the others
  • It should never be hold against someone or be considered as an individual objective
  • The moods should be observed during the next day’s daily meeting)
  • The manager / team leader / scrum master should try to understand and treat “abnormality”, good or bad: a common bad day shared by the whole team, a person that is constantly happy while the rest of the team is unhappy and vice-versa, a general deterioration of the team’s mood, a shared “happy” mood even if the project isn’t good wel…

In concrete terms, to use the Niko-niko method, you can build your own Niko-niko calendar with a daily calendar and a stack of color stickers. Or choose to use an online tool if your team is working remotely, or simply if you want to be able to analyze trends. An online tool can also help you gather comments more easily.

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How to leverage the Niko-niko calendar

Don’t let your Niko-niko hang there for nothing! Quantifying your team’s mood is only the first step, you need to be able to act on it, where your team is in a good or bad mood.

Reacting to one of several teammates’ bad mood can seem pretty obvious: you don’t want a bad situation to degenerate, and you need your team to be at its best in order to deliver results. But understanding and leveraging your team’s good mood is also very important.

Data from a Niko-niko calendar is a huge opportunity for reflection. You can get instant feedback from changes that are altering the work environment. It can also be included in a reporting for top management (leaving it anonymous).

Are you convinced? Start implementing a Niko-niko calendar in your team, either by building it yourself, of using an online one such as TeamMood and tell us what you think.

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