Friday, August 21, 2009

Staffing Agile Teams - What to Look for in a Team Member

Businesspeople shaking hands

Another of my posts from Borland's Agile Transformation blog. I know a lot of people looking for jobs right now and I'm hoping that this helps shed some light on the perspective of what the people on the other side of the interview are looking for in an Agile environment. Or, at least what I look for:

I read an interesting post about Scrum related job opportunities increasing and the author (Robin Pillay) posed three good questions to his readers:

  1. Where do you see Scrum in 5 years time in organisations?
  2. Every day I come across many candidates with no Scrum background that very keen to work for organisations that use scrum. The issues that I’m facing is many organisations always seem to want candidates from a Scrum background what would you recommend to candidates with no previous Scrum experience?
  3. What changes have you seen working in organisations that use Scrum compared to organizations that don’t ?"

I want to look at question #2, since I think there is a parallel question: If I'm staffing a Scrum (or Agile) team, what do I look for in candidates who don't necessarily have Scrum experience?

In my role as a ScrumMaster I've been involved in the interviewing process for many Scrum team members. Often these folks don't have prior history with Scrum, so I first give them a quick overview (this picture is really useful). A candidate without experience in Scrum should at least know how it works. Mountain Goat and others have lots of good (and free!) introductory material. For me, it's important to see that they've done that homework. Having some questions for the Scrum team on how well different Scrum practices work would be a plus for a candidate.
After the overview, I like to see is how the candidate contrasts this description of Scrum with the way they currently work. Do they seem leery of the change? Are they reluctant to work in such a highly visible and accountable way? Do they see benefits to Scrum from their current job? Are they eager for the high amount of interaction with their team? Will they pitch in to accomplish the goal or want to stay in a specialty?

It is also important to have lots of time in sessions with other team members. Not only are the other members in the best position to assess if the candidate is technically excellent, but they also have a great read on how the person will fit in with the team. Good teams are very vested in the hiring process since they know they'll be relying on this person to help them achieve the team goals. The best advice I can give to the candidate going through this process is the tried and true "honesty is the best policy". Don't try to bluff your way through since you'll be working really closely with these folks if you are brought onto the team. Sometimes flexibility and eagerness are more important anyway.

Finally, some thoughts for those candidates who do have Scrum experience. I'd expect to hear questions from them about adaptations the team has made to "by the book" Scrum, and for the candidate to be able to describe modifications their current team made over time. This shows the interest in learning from retrospectives and a dedication to continuous improvement.
I'd be interested in hearing from others. How do you assess candidates that aren't experienced with your methods?

Originally posted by Michael Maham on February 05, 2009 at 12:30 PM at

Update: There is a good conversation related to this on the Software Craftmanship group.

Update II: I like Richard Banks' approach to understanding technical competence

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