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InfoQ Homepage Articles Agile Hiring: a Joint Venture between the Talent Acquisition and Product Development Teams

Agile Hiring: a Joint Venture between the Talent Acquisition and Product Development Teams

Key Takeaways

  • In the IT sector, Talent Acquisition (TA) and retention has become a crucial topic for growing enterprises in the last few years. Speed, collaboration and transparency are key factors to succeed.
  • In the case where a candidate signs a contract with a company, a good collaboration between TA and the development team (dev Team) provides a fertile ground for smooth candidate integration during the hiring process.
  • Whether we hire candidates or not, they want to be perceived as human beings right from the beginning and be valued.
  • No tools or recruiting channels or methods replace the relationship to the employee market. Happy employees and satisfied candidates are the best branding strategy ever! 

Where it all began

Four years ago I joined a young German company which planned a rapid and extensive expansion of the IT development organization.

The IT development organization itself was born agile, which was a great starting point, but the Talent Acquisition (TA) team had a more traditional setup.

The question was: could lean and agile principles help the TA team to overcome challenges?

The problems to solve

In contrast to the situation 30 years ago where IT professionals looked for jobs, nowadays companies are the ones in dire need of and searching for IT professionals. 

And that was exactly the situation we were facing: the demand for IT professionals was far higher than the offer!

Nowadays the challenge is not just to attract and acquire, but to retain the best professionals in the sector.

Before we move on with our story, let’s look at some statistics.

According to the USA Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupation group: Software Developers, Quality Assurance Analysts, and Testers, employment in computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow 22% from today to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations.

Furthermore, in its statistics section, brochure IT Professional graphic 7,  the Bundesagentur für Arbeit  [German Federal Employment Agency], published that IT professional vacancies stay open for around 132 days before a suitable candidate is hired. This is 14 days more than the average for all occupations. It does not sound like a big difference, but what worries the industry is the trend.

Obviously The Employment Agencies confirm that the war for talent is fierce,  however, our company bureaucracy was making the talent acquisition extremely difficult.

There was a sense of urgency among all company areas regarding further hiring; even the development teams were very concerned and were willing to help, as they were the ones suffering the lack of new colleagues joining the team. The development teams are actually the primary stakeholders of our  recruiting team!

In order to mitigate the scarcity of IT employees, the leadership team explored the idea of opening a development center in Bulgaria, and after a couple of months investigating, we traveled to Sofia to create the first development center outside of Germany. Seeking IT professionals in Bulgaria turned out no easier than in Germany: we realized that several international corporations were already installed in Sofia, and many more were to come in the near future.

The problem was not solved.

Facing the challenges

The first step was to organize a workshop with the Bulgarian development teams, which sent representatives to analyze the situation, identify the hinderers and find ways to remove them. 

The most significant hinders the teams found included following four: 

Long and bureaucratic hiring procedures

Judge for yourself. See the typical steps scheduled when hiring a new employee in the picture below.  

  • After the first sucessful telephone interview between the new candidate and the TA manager, the application form was sent to the hiring manager’s review funnel. 
  • If the application passed the hiring manager’s review, a second interview was scheduled in which the hiring manager, TA manager and the candidate participated.
  • If the second interview was passed, a third interview with some experienced developers was scheduled. 
  • This was the moment where the decision was taken and the TA manager approached the applicant to offer the position. 

A month has gone by since the candidate applied…

Surprise! The candidate mostly declined the offer because he/she was already hired by a company with a faster hiring process.

All these steps were accompanied by documentation that the people involved in the process needed to fill out, which ended up creating a huge amount of wasted time, as the documentation was not being used for the candidate selection. 

Little development team involvement when choosing a new colleague

I love the ugly duck story because I experienced it 30 years ago in one of the companies I joined. I was qualified to perform my job as a developer, but there were cultural barriers that created a heavy atmosphere between myself and the team members. For example, informal conversations were foreign to me and I couldn't digest the messages and connect with them. Connecting with team members! It sounds strange, but we all know what it means.What a terrible feeling!

If the "client” of the talent acquisition team, that is, the development team, was not involved in the hiring process, or the team did not take the final decision, the “ugly duck” story may be repeated. The new employee could turn into an “ugly duck” for the team!

It could happen that the team accepted the newbies but the newbie did not feel comfortable with that team. Even in high performing teams there has to be “good connection” among the team members; personalities play a big role! In 2016, in the Harvard Business Review Great Teams Are About Personalities, Not Just Skills article, Google announced that it discovered that the drivers of effective team performance are the group’s average level of emotional intelligence and a high degree of communication between members. I would like to add that my German at that time was not fluent and the team members did not want to change from German to English, creating communication problems.

Lack of transparency

The development teams wanted transparency during the whole process; they wanted to have the whole picture: who is being hired, which team is under pressure, where they are understaffed, which team needs backend developers or Java ones, etc…. Furthermore, our development teams wanted to collaborate throughout the entire hiring process and have a transparent staffing status across all teams. 

As we all know, transparency is the basis for trust, which in turn is the basis for collaboration and open communication.  

The company branding and reputation

Our company's brand in Bulgaria was integrated into a "sister company", which had a strong presence in the country and a strong reputation as a retail brand, yet the sister company's brand was not attractive to IT professionals. On the other hand, our own brand was not known in Bulgaria. Would you work as a talented IT professional for an unknown brand?

Problem solving approach

With the four hinders above, we focused on finding solutions and defining the following goals:  

  • To shorten the TA’s long and bureaucratic process from weeks to days
  • From a heavy documentation process to a dialogue between IT dev teams and TA
  • From low dev team involvement to collaboration during the entire process
  • From management prioritization and hiring decisions to team prioritization and final decisions
  • Full transparency during the whole process
  • To leave the sister's tutelage and make our own brand

Lean process, dev team collaboration from the beginning to the end decision 

The TA team agreed to adjust the documentation to the minimum needed to make the right decisions, and rather secure a dialog instead of filling papers. Furthermore, the TA team even sat down with the development team area to facilitate the dialogue.

The concept of a "Team Day" was created and implemented. This was a highlight and had an amazing impact by shortening the process’ cycle time from weeks to days!.

The people centric seven-step process looks like this:         

 The process human face looks like this: 

Lests shortly describe each step:

Step A: Prior to the Team Day, the TA team contacts the candidate and arranges a date, so that in the next few days the candidate could spend an entire day working with the team.

Steps B, C, D and E: these three steps formed the Team Day. In one working day, the team meets the candidate to:

  1. Have a light interview 
  2. Have lunch to allow informal talks; this was an important step to break the ice, facilitate a smooth next step, and to find out if the social aspects also fit.
  3. After lunch and coffee, the applicant receives a technical task to perform assigned by the team, and sits at one of the team’s desks, working on the task while the team does their own work. 
  4. When the candidate’s task is ready, the candidate presents it to the team and before leaving, the team invites the candidate to give feedback to the team about the “Team Day”. This feedback is crucial, as the team also wants to improve their talent acquisition skills. 
  5. The next day, the team meets to make a decision. The team communicates the decision to the TA team, who in turn contacts the candidate to continue the process. In the event that the candidate is not accepted for the position, TA thanks the candidate for their interest and time invested. If the candidate requests details about the declination reason, TA respectfully provides the information. Transparency in all directions is the mantra!

Steps F and G: In the case of a positive decision, the TA team continues with the corresponding contract negotiations and the dev team is notified of the contract start date.

Full transparency during the whole process 

The parent company was quite advanced in visual management, and had developed a dashboard to visualize the entire team's staff and its requirements for new talent.

On a wall in the main hall, very visible to all employees, the organization created a regular “brick and mortar” board. Each team set up a card with the team name, logo, team members’ names and roles. 

Staffing board in the company headquarters

Colored post-it notes were used to mark the status of each team. Each dev team was responsible to keep its situation up-to-date. The post-it notes indicated:

  • Pink - Needed role (I am needed)
  • Green - Future new joiner name, plus the arrival date (I will arrive)
  • Blue - Team member’s name who was absent because they were in rotation, parental leave or other reason, when he/she returns and where is he/she (I am somewhere else)
  • Yellow - Team member’s name leaving the team and the last contractual date (I will leave)

Inspiring company visitors- a bonus point! 

When external visitors to the company, such as candidates, stakeholders or customers, passed by the staff board, they were curious about the degree of transparency of the information and enquired about it. Although this was not the intention of the board, showing it to external visitors had a positive effect on our image and inspired them to implement something similar in their companies. 

Prioritizing together

 Parent company board in Cologne

On the left side we used one queue per requested role. The teams queued their small logos in the corresponding role column to make visible their requests.

In a weekly meeting, the representatives of the development teams and a TA representative together prioritized the required role queues, e.g. java dev, frontend dev, backend, UX/UI, Product Owner, scrum master, etc.

The prioritization was based on the criteria that the teams had formulated when defining the process. Two most important aspects were: the "criticality of the deliverable", which refers to the criticality of the artifacts that the team was delivering, and the size of the team.

The team that was at the top of the queue had the highest priority that would be called first to schedule their "Team Day".

In Bulgaria we replicated the board.

Hiring was part of the daily job of the dev teams, but it was not visible in the task boards, making hiring a not prioritized task. To change this, the dev teams and corresponding product owners agreed with product managers that hiring tasks should become part of the backlogs, were to be prioritized as any other backlog, and were to be prioritized as any other task.

The learnings

Let me share with you my learnings from this story, then you can see if they make sense to you, and if they inspire you to review your recruiting process to improve it and attract the best IT professionals.

  • Enable the dev team members to acquire and secure the best candidates for their teams and the company. Finds ways to increase their talent acquisition competencies and engagement.
  • Candidates are professionals. We need to respect them and maintain open communication with them.
  • Don't underestimate the power of a white wall at the center of your company - post the dev team staffing board there. Remember, transparency builds trust, trust facilitates collaboration and good communication.
  • Continuously improve your recruitment process with feedback from candidates, teams, managers and even visitors. Seek for feedback and accelerate the improvement.

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