Why People-Performance Numbers are Critical in IT Development


I love people, and I truly believe that every individual is amazing and valuable, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is the perfect IT enterprise architect or project manager. It is really important to find the perfect match to optimize your IT organization’s performance.

Since Nucleon was published, one of the things that frequently comes up in conversation is the idea of putting a number on people in order to find the top performers, the so-called “10s.”

I believe we must assign a number to every individual’s performance in the IT organization.


Because the individuals in an IT organization are by far the most performance-generating factor in complex systems development. (“People make a difference” was my company’s slogan from 1998 to 2008 — at 7N we stopped using it only because everybody else was using it by then.)

I have seen several cases where individuals have impressed me in a way no tools, system or methodology could ever deliver on.

Tools and methodologies are of no use without a human component and interaction, yet we continue to analyze performance, price, and “user friendliness” more often than we analyze people. We need to evaluate our greatest resource, and assigning a number to performance is the way to do it.

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I can understand people having some reluctance about this — no one likes to be thought of as a number. However, this is what we do as a society, starting from young ages with personality profiles and educational testing scores. Every individual under 25 is accustomed to being evaluated every day in the school and university environment.

That being the case, why is it that when we grow up we are reluctant to evaluate ourselves or have our peers evaluate us in a similar way? Is it too confrontational? Too uncomfortable?

We are talking about the most important factor in IT delivery. We have to be as objective and honest as possible in identifying the performance of our team members- Otherwise, how can we develop as professionals and individuals?

Though making a practice of assigning numbers on a gut-feeling level is better than not reflecting on individual performance levels at all, in Nucleon I introduce a more objective way of assessing people — one that uses standardized measures, processes and tests to provide a better understanding of what an individual can deliver and what job function is the best match.

You can assess individuals in hundreds of ways, and I strongly believe you should find one that fits your own culture.

At 7N we have always assessed people by assigning a numerical category from 1 to 10: the lowest-level performers are a 1 and the top performers are 10s. My research in performance revealed that 10s, who are the top 1% of all IT professionals in a normal statistical distribution, perform at a level that is almost twice greater than that of the next level’s performers who we call 9s and who typically represent the top 3% of a population. Going further down the line, 10s perform at a level that is twenty times greater than that of an average IT specialist level of performance. 10s are at a level that is one hundred times greater than that of individuals classified as 1s.

That’s the basis for Nucleon: let us derive realistic numbers so that it becomes clear when things have gone badly, or when your people are performing brilliantly. That’s why we need tools and methodologies to assist us in getting a realistic and valuable picture of our collective performance level.

People are the core of anything you want to do in IT. You need to identify the individuals who have a realistic chance of delivering high performance, and you need to match them perfectly to the jobs they are best suited for. Focusing on identifying the best people and attracting them for the right position will guarantee you enormous success in your development efforts, project after project. I promise you.