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Use Agile to Make Compensation Changes Manageable

Agile Methodology (or Agile devotees will tell you, NOT a methodology) “helps teams respond to unpredictability through incremental, iterative work cadences and empirical feedback. Agilists propose alternatives to waterfall, or traditional sequential development.”

Agile is often associated with managing products — and the work that goes in to building and maintaining those products — in increments. If you talk to someone about Agile — more specifically, Scrum — this is one of the key mindset shifts they will probably point to.

You may ask, how is product management like compensation management? Simply, the work is never done. Building a product and managing compensation for an organization are not projects — they’re ongoing endeavors that are continuously improving and delivering.

How Agile Facilitates Easier Compensation Planning

Compensation is often thought of as a behemoth undertaking, not for the faint of heart. However, taking an incremental approach to compensation changes is a much more manageable way to make comp impact in your organization.

While there are many additional components of Agile and Scrum, let’s look at how incremental work can be applied to comp. Here’s how to approach compensation with an Agile mindset.

1. Take Stock of All the Comp-Related Items You’d Like to Tackle

  • Rank them by importance, and start with something simple.

o    High = this is crucial to our business success or legally required.

o    Med = we think this change will get us moving in the right direction toward our business goals.

o    Low = this is something we know our employees really want.

  • Then assign a time/energy/effort measurement. Start simple here, too.

o    1 = quick and easy.

o    2 = moderate effort and time involvement.

o    3 = time- and energy-intensive.

Note: This initial planning might be a little time-intensive, but remember, you can shift priorities as business needs change — its one of the most fruitful outcomes of this approach!

This list might start to look something like this:


  • Job benchmarking to market data – 2
  • Annual pay increases – 3

Tip: Ease the effort of the increase process with PayScale Team.


  • Building pay grade ranges – 2
  • Employee total comp reports – 2


  • Update job descriptions – 3

Now you’ve got a project “backlog.” Don’t like the word backlog? You’re not alone; think of it as a well-organized to-do list.

Note: having a hard time assigning an importance or effort score to each project? Plot it out on a white board with Post-its, with an importance scale on the left and an effort scale on the bottom. A high-importance, high effort-project would fall in the top right of that chart and a low-importance, low-effort project will fall toward the bottom left.

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2. Start Plotting Out These Projects on a Timeline or Roadmap

Some of these projects (or pieces of projects) might overlap or be interdependent — for example, job benchmarking to market data will need to occur prior to building pay ranges. But, for the most part, this timeline should be realistic and target to complete one project, in small chunks, at a time.

If some of the bigger projects can be broken down in to chunks, do that, too. For example, job benchmarking is an activity more oriented to grouping by department or job family, where building pay grade ranges are more oriented to “doing it all at once.”

3. Start With the First Project in Your Timeline and Get to Work!

Get detailed about what this project will involve, the time it will take, where you can allocate that time, and how often you should be checking in or updating your project manager (even if that’s you).

Example: Job benchmarking might take 10 hours total — are those hours that someone can commit in one or two work sessions or is this something that will need to span over a few weeks with an hour of work being done each week?

In product management, each timed chunk of work is called a “sprint.” Sprints are often two weeks long and consist of the “to-do list” of items that can reasonably be accomplished in that two-week period, as well as a high-level “sprint goal” that provides context for the work to be done. In the example of a sprint with a focus on benchmarking, the goal of that sprint might be “obtain relevant market data for sales roles.” Having a sprint goal will help maintain focus if priorities or workload needs to shift.

Parsing out activities and work in to sprints is crucial to this method and allows you to make, see, and measure progress as you go, as well as deliver components of your project as you go for buy-in and approval

Tip: Trello is a great, easy and inexpensive tool for this kind of project management.

With these three steps you can jump and start flexing your Agile muscles. Get started today!

Tell Us What You Think

Have you implemented an agile framework for compensation? We want to hear from you. Tell us about your experiences in the comments.

Image: Pixabay/Pexels

Rita Patterson
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