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Hiring for an Agile Team

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Agile development model has spawned a lot of interest, conferences and books across the entire software development community. The paradigm of effective software development has taken a shift in the right direction. One area which still seems to need some refactoring is the best way to hire for an Agile team.

Richard Sheridan and Lisamarie Babik from Menlo Innovations suggested that when they wanted to hire, they knew that the traditional hiring techniques would not work.

The traditional interviewing methods, with the traditional résumé and interview process, failed to take into account a developer's aptitude to work in a highly collaborative workspace.

The extreme interviewing technique applied by Menlo is structured more like an audition. Here programmers applying for the job are paired together and observed. The outcome of the interview is not dependent on the solution of the problem but their communication, teamwork, discussions, problem solving capability and other soft skills along with the technical skills. The details of the process are shared as a white-paper.

James Shore suggested a hiring approach with five stages. The earlier stages take the least effort and filter out the greatest number of candidates. The later stages take more effort and evaluate specific qualifications of the candidate.

  1. Candidate Self Filtering - Creates a barrier to entry that filters out people who aren't willing to make an effort e.g. including five essay questions with a job posting.
  2. Pre-Interview Filtering – Team reviews the candidate submissions to the essay questions as soon as they come in. A thumbs down by any team member means that the next stage is not required.
  3. Behavioral Interview (morning) - Allows the team to learn more about the candidate's personality and experience.
  4. Pairing Sessions (afternoon) - Provides a detailed look at the candidate's real-world abilities and behavior. Candidates pair on real world tasks for the ongoing iteration. The following morning the interview team gets together for a debrief using the ORID format.
  5. Offer - is the last stage where the hiring manager is involved and a job offer is released.

Darren Hale also suggested a similar multi-stage interview process to assess the technical, process and personal attributes of the candidate. According to Darren

Interview is broken up into three segments: technical, process, personal. For each segment, we assign at least two team members so that a majority of the team gets to interact with the candidate. The technical portion of the interview focuses on raw technical ability and includes a hands-on programming exercise. The process portion gets into philosophies on testing, problem solving, and pair programming, among other topics. The personal section looks at conflict resolution, personal motivation, and general mental stability. We've found that this process works very well.

Johanna Rothman mentioned some of the questions that she gathered from an Agile workshop on “Hiring for an Agile Team”.

  • Tell me about a time when you participated in a debate on differences of opinion
  • Tell me about a time when you went along with a team decision you disagreed with
  • Tell me about a time you needed info from elsewhere but were initially unable to get it
  • Tell me about a time when you were successful at getting/having the team take a different approach
  • Tell me about a time when you challenged the team’s direction.

These questions specifically help the teams evaluate how the candidate manages the day-to-day interactions with others, including the issue of initiative and getting along with a team.

Thus, hiring technical people for an Agile team and being hired can be difficult, no matter what the economy is doing. The key lies in identifying a sound process to get the most compatible people on board. People should be hired for talent rather than specific skills that they possess at that particular time.

As Sheridan put it

My advice is to hire for talents rather than skills, build an environment where skills can be learned and reinforce the culture you are trying to build in the interview process itself. Too often, our industry hires for exact skill matches. I often counsel new college graduates to avoid these kinds of employers, as the message is clear: "We are unwilling to invest in you."

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