271. Niko-Niko — Team Assessments Using Smileys

Niko-Niko is a visual calendar tool that can be used to track the emotions of your team members, similar to that of a happiness index or a mood board. It contains a column for your team members’ names and provides them the opportunity to record their emotions at the end of every workday with emoticons and other graphics, allowing you to track patterns and improve the morale of your staff. Tune in today as we discuss all things Niko-Niko: what benefits it may provide to your team, what potential pitfalls may arise from its use, and how it could possibly be improved.

Key Points From This Episode:

  • What Niko-Niko is: a visual calendar tool that tracks the emotions of a team. 
  • How Niko-Niko works. 
  • Differences between the Spotify Squad Health Check and Niko-Niko.  
  • The benefits of Niko-Niko: discovering patterns or activities that trigger certain moods. 
  • How it can be used to identify team members who may need support or counseling. 
  • The benefit of identifying ways to help team members feel valued and recognized.
  • The pitfalls of Niko-Niko: it can be used against you. 
  • The importance of creating a psychologically safe space before introducing Niko-Niko.
  • Why anonymizing it may make it better.
  • And much more!

Transcript for Episode 270. Niko-Niko — Team Assessments Using Smileys :D


[0:00:01.3] MN: Hello and welcome to The Rabbit Hole, the definitive developer’s podcast. Living large in New York, I’m your host, Michael Nunez, and today, we’ll be talking about Niko-Niko, team assessments using smileys. 

Before I dive in, I just want to say that recently, I actually got the opportunity to see an actual rabbit hole and it was quite amazing. I didn’t know that like, I’ve never seen it in person. So to see like A, a rabbit hole, it was out in front of my yard and I saw that there was a rabbit in the area trying to, you know, just scouring around and I didn’t realize it was just trying to protect the little bunnies that are inside of the rabbit hole. So maybe next time, I’ll do the recording outside where I am at the rabbit hole, in The Rabbit Hole, with the rabbit hole. We’ll see what happens there. 

Today, we’ll be talking about Niko-Niko and what is it, what are some benefits to use for your team, pitfalls to avoid and how I would spin this around in today’s age. You know, I try to dig deep into the Agile bag and try to find some topics to discuss and I think the next couple of topics that I would like to talk about will come and derive from, be inspired from the Agile subway map, which you can find in agilealliance.org. 

I am trying to go through the train map, you know, I have lived in the Bronx for many years now so I have been very familiar with the MTA train map and it’s very, very, very confusing but this one is a lot simpler and I was just trying to go through the routes and how do I go from point A to point B. I don’t think the purpose is to have to go from point A to point B, more that there’s just different routes and they collide with other topics and Niko-Niko was one of them. 

[0:01:48.2] So I was like, “Wait a second, I don’t think I have ever run those before.” So today, we’re going to talk about it. I could dive right into the definition of Niko-Niko. According to wrike.com, that’s wrike.com, Niko-Niko calendar is a visual tool in calendar format that’s used to track the emotions of a team, also known as the happiness index. The calendar layout includes columns that contains all team member’s names. 

According to Agile Alliance, the team installs a calendar on one of the room’s walls. The format of the calendar allows each team member to record at the end of every workday a graphic evaluation of their mood during that day. This can be either a hand-drawn emoticon or a colored sticker following a simple color code. For instance, blue for a bad day, red for neutral, yellow for a good one, a good day. Overtime, the Niko-Niko calendar reveals pattern of changes in the mood of the team or of individual members. 

I think in one of these websites if I recall correctly, at the agilealliance.org, the Japanese word “niko” means “smile” and I try to Google that to make sure and I really couldn’t find it. There were many other different names but yeah, according to Agile Alliance, following a common pattern of the word doubling in Japanese, “Niko-Niko” has a meaning closer to “smiley.” The term mood board is also seen. So you could call it a “mood board” or Niko-Niko. I kind of like Niko-Niko, it’s pretty cool. 

[0:03:29.7] How does the Niko-Niko work? I’ll try to explain it to the best that I can. According to the image provided by agilealliance.org, imagine a grid if you will, on the top left you have the sprint number. Sprint number 33 is the example that’s used. The first column has everyone’s name, you know, you have Lucinda, Theodore, Virginia, Olga, Elliot, Suresh, and Emile. I think that’s how you pronounce the name. 

Going to the right next to sprint 33, you have the days of the work week, so Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and then if your sprint is two weeks long, you’ll have that repeated and every day, it seems like the team had put a particular smiley, whether it’s a smiling with a teeth, a straight face where the lips are just straight and the red hot angry face. 

At the end of the day, you go and you put how you were feeling, how you were doing throughout the entire day and I don’t think this pertains to like just the work day. I would take this in a retro format where it’s like if it affected you during the day, you should definitely document that. So you know, you may have had a good work day but you got bummed out by some news elsewhere, you can definitely make that one smiley down if you feel that way. 

This kind of looks like the Spotify team health check kind of chart, where you assess the health of the team every sprint but the difference between the Niko-Niko and the Spotify health check is that you’re going to do this every day and it is going to change based on the days. 

[0:05:09.8] What are the benefits of having a Niko-Niko? You’ll be discovering patterns or activities that trigger certain moods. In the example, I’m just playing around here. I am not sure if this is real or true or not but in the image, on Friday, the first Friday of sprint 33, everyone is either straight faced or angry. So something must have happened during the day. 

Whether it’s like a production bug or I don’t know, they had to do a deployment that didn’t go too well, something happened then and that’s like information that you can use as a leader to determine how you can support the team for that particular Friday kind of scenario and support them next time. Just a note, the following Friday looks a little bit better, there is no one angry but there is still two straight faces and the rest are smiling. So something might have been addressed by then. 

The next benefit is getting daily feedback on team members’ moods, identify those that are facing challenges and figure out how to provide support and counseling. So I would say looking at this chart, you can kind of assess if someone is feeling a little bit blue or angry a lot of the times and the idea is that you would get feedback from them to figure out what’s the issue and how you can support them through that issue. 

I don’t think that this chart could be used or should be used as a way to like use it against individuals and I’ll talk about that later in the pitfalls but it is a good clue into what you can do as a, you know, whether you’re the tech lead of the team or you want to support someone who is having a rough time and try to figure out what are they working on, is it the thing that they’re working on or the process that they’re dealing with, the domain that they’re currently trying to figure out and helping them out might be able to change this. So this particular chart is good for, I would say a leader or you know, a team player in general. 

[0:07:13.8] Lastly, the benefit is identifying ways to help team members feel valued and recognized, right? So if you see someone who at beginning of the weeks was a bit sad faced and then at the end of the sprint they were getting more smileys, then it seems like, you know, their manager may have been able to address something that actually addressed the problem that they were having and that would make them feel valued and feel heard. 

Because it’s like, “Hey, I have this issue. I am constantly running into it at work” and people have taken the steps to listen to them and kind of ensure that the problem can be solved and you could work with that person to solve that problem. 

There are pitfalls and I think one of them is, as I mentioned before, it can be used against you, right? I think one of the things that are required in Niko-Niko is that it requires a psychologically safe environment, right? If I was a manager who had my thumb under every single engineer, I am pretty sure I will see less angry faces and if people are just kind of working through that anger, then we can never address the issue at hand for that particular problem. 

So it really has to be a space where you’re comfortable talking to your team members about being angry or about being straight faced and like things aren’t particularly fun and being able to talk to your team about that is like a requirement for this particular chart and I think that this will have to go very similar to retrospectives, where you have to have that psychologically safe environment for you to share your feeling whether they’re happy ones or whether they’re angry ones. 

[0:08:55.0] You know, another way that this could be used against someone, if we look at the chart and Bobby is always angry, it could just be blown off like, “Oh, Bobby is just, you know, we can never make Bobby happy” ha-ha and keep moving, when in reality, Bobby could have a problem that needs to be addressed, that could be addressed and wouldn’t get addressed because everyone thinks that Bobby just likes to complain on purpose. He gets paid to complain and that’s really, it may not be the case. Bobby could just be going through something work-related that could be addressed by, you know, a leader or leadership and whatnot. 

So if you’re going to introduce the Niko-Niko, I would suggest you ensure you have that, your team is psychologically safe and you’re comfortable to see the angry faces because that is information, just as important as when you see those smiley faces.

How would I update this? I think it’s really funny in the definition, it has to be on a wall and posted up for everyone to see and I mean, I have many walls, which is great. I’m blessed to have them but if I put a wall up in my calendar and all my team members’ faces then it is not going to really help if another person wants to put the smiley up there. So we got to come up with a digital version of this. 

I think the first thing that came into mind, it’s a grid. So it would probably be an Excel spreadsheet, a Google spreadsheet more than likely that’s the product that we’ll be using, that I would use and I think the second thing, not a 100% sure whether I am comfortable having it like tie a person, right? Because on the left is like, “Oh, put the name down and then you have to put your mood.” 

[0:10:37.5] I think this is really cool like if it’s specific to individuals, we can help that particular individual and if it is psychologically safe to do that, then I would give it a thumbs up but I was thinking more like the retro aspect where it could be anonymized and like, you know, at any point you make sure that you have your smiley up there, maybe you just remove the names and you can tell people at random what column they are or make an alias.

You know, everyone could be Bobby, Bobby 1, two, three, four and then you can choose or I’ll be Bobby three for this week and then move to the right with your emojis because then you get a sense of the entire team. You’re not like trying to focus in on one person like you can see, “Oh, that first week, we got a lot of angry faces” not “Oh, that first week Theodore was pissed for whatever reason and I don’t know why” right? 

Anonymizing it might make it a little bit more interesting and that is probably something that I would introduce if I was going to start with a Niko-Niko and it sounds like a really interesting project. So I might be considering starting one of these just for fun and see how things play out at the end of a sprint. 

If you decide that this sounds like a good idea and you want to start making or create a Niko-Niko for your team, please let me know. I love to hear it, any stories that come out from this. This was fairly new for me to find in agilealliance.org and the fact that I did, it was pretty awesome. So if you’ve got any experience with this, feel free to hit me up. 


[0:12:05.9] MN: Follow us now on Twitter @radiofreerabbit so we can keep the conversation going. Like what you hear? Give us a five-star review and help developers just like you find their way into The Rabbit Hole and never miss an episode, subscribe now however you listen to your favorite podcast. On behalf of our producer extraordinaire, William Jeffries, and my amazing co-host, Dave Anderson, and me, your host, Michael Nunez, thanks for listening to The Rabbit Hole.


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