​Identify the "real" person behind that CV!​


What are you assessing during your interview

A new team member has to be chosen for the Agile team, it's urgent, we need to fill this position fast. There are many prospective CVs available, so it's should be easy right?


How common is this problem statement for so many of us. Any people manager, with any amount of experience with them, would have faced this arduous task to select individuals from a range of applicants for their Agile Teams. We have to acknowledge that there is great effectiveness in agile methodology, and we have to utilise it even while selecting individuals for your Agile teams.


So, going back to the problem statement, how do you make the right choice?

Mmm.. let me guess, based on technical skills in the preferred domain, number of years in a particular position, good communication skills, good presenter, good leadership qualities, having knowledge about agile processes or maybe on gut feel that candidate has the right thought process plus all correct answers were provided to questions asked?


What prompts you to say “Yes, I need this person in my team!”

If I ask this question, I am certain that there is no unanimous response, because people involved in interview processes are so diverse in their own self. Everyone has a way, everyone can assess differently. So I am not telling you what you all have been doing all this while is wrong! We need to stress more on something else too, which are equally important to how an Agile Team gels together, works together and delivers together.


As we are discussing this, I also want you to picture the last time when you heard this statement, “ah, the person I got in my agile team, actually sounded quite okay, but later it turned out that it wasn't a good fit.”

If you have ever heard this statement, pause and think what went wrong? After all those gruesome rounds of interviewing process, and all the checks we did, how come the interview process was not able to give us clues about this. We were still are not able to understand the real person behind the CV. Whether this real human being and their personality traits can really fit into this team. This is an honest conversation you can have with your own self. I need not hear it or know about it.


How to select individuals to your scrum team?

In all these Years as a people manager and servant leader, I have learnt that inducting a new team member is the first step in making that great Agile Team.


In the current age of social media, you actually get to know a lot about the candidate in question. Thus, without wasting time on the skill assessment, I would like to focus on the most important aspect here: what are different traits about this candidates thought process, their natural and human instincts, whether they are extroverts / introverts, do they respect difference of opinion, how do they handle unjustified pressure, etc.. Some of these traits, in any individual, are direct pointers for the interviewee / people manager, how easy this person would be to work with,


So what are we looking for? We are basically looking at personality traits and values which help agile teams bloom! People managers should discover ways to identify these when recruiting and coaching your people for the next level. Usually a people manager is always in rush to fill that open position.. isn’t it!

When asked to describe the intrinsic characteristics for a person well suited to the agile environment, I have identified the below things to be the most important.

Ambiguity is not a problem, its a temporary state in Agile

A. Ability to handle ambiguity and a high level of agreeableness contribute most to success The ability to handle ambiguity should be no surprise, as the nature of agility requires a high degree of flexibility. Agile Teams have to operate in an environment of ambiguity and things actually become more concrete as the sprint scope is being finally planned. Working together with the teams on not yet fully complete details is also a very important skill an individual should have. Remember all of those advance grooming sessions which we need to participate in, and the discussions which we used to have on all those user stories.

People who can handle ambiguity well, mainly focus on their goals and prioritize few items to get started instead of investing a significant amount of time to completely understand every single detail and risk and attempting to embed these into the plan.


Thus while interviewing an individual you can observe for:

  • Ask about specific examples of when they encountered a complex problem where solutions were initially unknown.

  • Identify people who treat ambiguous situations as opportunities to learn with the customer, to experiment, and to try out new ideas.

  • Ask about the specific steps they followed to address the problem; assess based on their ability to make assumptions and work systematically.

People leaders also have to make sure that they build a fail-safe environment around their agile teams, where rules and complexities are minimized so to encourage creativity and innovation. Team members should feel safe and protected from the political mess that usually shrouds in the organisation.


Thus, you should:

  • Discuss benefits of agile mindset and ways of working over linear planning; thereby highlighting the importance of accepting ambiguity; use the flexibility to continuously minimize significant risks.

  • Normalize behaviors and acknowledge that the discomfort encountered during change is normal. Implement effective communication patterns to involve team members to be a part of the change and not victims.

Agreeableness is key to team cohesion

B. Prominence of Agreeableness in a teams culture.

It is sometimes stated that agreeableness is more highly ranked than openness.

Agreeableness can actually short cut the teams progression curve on Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing path. Teams can actually breeze past the Norming stage of team formation.

Agreeableness is the secret ingredient in the recipe of great agile teams. Most cultures teach and reinforce a culture of competition, but we are increasingly seeing other ways to build a high- performing, agile organization. And agreeableness does not work from a single individual’s perspective. For example: High agreeableness among product owners means that they are able to work with the team, reconcile differences, and set small attainable goals; ultimately, they better understand and design products that cater to customers’ needs.

High agreeableness among team members means they respect others and their ideas, are able to work in cross-functional networks, and enable information transparency, understanding, and cohesion among group members.


Thus while interviewing an individual you can observe for:

  • Know about an individual’s understanding of conflict and how they value others’ perspectives. This is really very important.

  • Listen for strategies and approaches that prioritize understanding and empathy over right solution and anger. This might be the most important humane trait to look for.

  • Create opportunities for questions and focus on how your answers land. The way your interviewee asks follow-up and clarification questions is often a valid indicator of their listening skills.


People leaders should look to develop below traits in their Agile Teams:

  • Introduce team norms that explicitly cover “how to resolve disagreement and conflict in a constructive way” during onboarding or kick-off.

  • Ask what is important to each member in the team and find common ground.

  • Help everyone in the team develop “active listening” skills by asking open-ended questions.

  • Demonstrate being a good listener for them to model this behaviour.


Take Pride in what you do

C. Does an individual take Pride in Product which they are currently working for.


Agile teams take ownership of the product they deliver. For them, pride in the product (the outcome) sits higher than pride in the work (the process): they know that the process can and will change as they review the relationship between the process and value it achieves. Being proud means more than being happy with the work; it also means wanting to be associated with.


I interviewed an individual off late and tried to ask him “What needs to happen in a work day, post which he can say today was really a satisfying day”? The individual answered, “Good day is when today is same like yesterday, not much different, if things are stable and going at their own pace, then I think that would be a very good day for me”. Now you decide for yourself, do you want this candidate on your flexible and ever changing Agile Team?


Another important trait here is that the customer is the inspiration of agile organizations. Do you have features on your laptop, TV, or refrigerator that you have never used? The Standish group estimates 50% of all software features are unused, or infrequently used: many of the features that creators spent hours worrying about are used differently or never by the customers. Remember, Complexity here comes not just as a “creator” problem, but also a “user- and-consumer” one. I think the most stressing is User Experience study which actually tells how the customer is likely to feel with the product or service that we are developing.


Now some people think that UX is all about creation of a beautiful user interface. Which is actually not true at all. User experience has everything to do with beyond user interface. Let me give you an example: A single bicycle, can give you two different user experiences, if you are going up hill and you have to pedal hard, it is worst user experience. But, if you are going downhill and the bicycle is travelling without any pedalling, this is an amazing user experience. Notice, the bicycle is the same. The situations are different and actually it has nothing to do with how beautiful the bicycle looks. You will still hate it if you are going uphill.

Therefore, customers and agile teams learn together. This means, everyone must care about the customer. Customer-centricity allows agile teams to achieve three important ends: first, they find the most economic solutions (when the team is focused on the customers and uses an agile approach, it tends to deliver value to the customer incrementally and frequently); second, they share the responsibility for “getting it right” (many organizations have a single person or group that interacts with the customers, but in agile organizations the teams learn about the customers’ needs and share collectively); and third, they can be motivated because they know who they are helping (what anyone does is clearly understood and relates directly to the end user).


D. How open the individual is with Self Direction:

People leaders should assess that a conservative mindset could limit team performance. Delivering value in a complex world requires product owners and agile team members to work against many constraints in the existing organization.


They must be willing to try different things: to quote Einstein, you cannot solve problems with the same thinking that created them. To fully embrace enterprise agility, product owners have to lead the team in coming up with novel solutions and designs to cater to customers’ needs; team members have to be willing to take risks, work with ambiguity, and not excessively focus on traditions.


Traits, values, and next steps

Please notice that if you really want to exploit the complete value of Agile methodology, please don’t look for “Yes Sir” candidates. Individuals who blindly adhere to all rules and processes without questioning may thrive in a traditional organization but will struggle to adapt to fast-changing and complex agile work environments. Thus, before going for the next interview ask yourself, what is it that my agile team needs, what traits are important to my agile team and then go to that interview to find out who is the individual behind that CV?


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