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"Hiring Technical People" - 5 new articles

  1. Five Tips to Hiring a Generalizing Specialist
  2. Survey on Job Finding
  3. Do Your Ads Reflect Your Job and Culture?
  4. Six Tips for Interviewing Scrum Masters, Part 2
  5. Six Tips for Interviewing Scrum Masters, Part 1
  6. More Recent Articles
  7. Search Hiring Technical People
  8. Prior Mailing Archive

Five Tips to Hiring a Generalizing Specialist

We talk a lot in agile about generalizing specialists. Scott Ambler has a terrific essay on what a generalizing specialist is:

  • Has one or more technical specialties…
  • Has at least a general knowledge of software development.
  • Has at least a general knowledge of the business domain in which they work.
  • Actively seeks to gain new skills in both their existing specialties as well as in other areas, including both technical and domain areas

(From Scott Ambler’s essay,

How do you hire one of these mythical people?

First, they are not mythical. They are real. Second, you do a job analysis, just as you would for any job. Third, you would look at how they have acquired skills throughout their careers.

What does this mean for the hiring manager and/or recruiter?

  1. If you search on keywords only, you will miss these people. They may not have all the keywords you want on a resume. That’s because they are generalizing specialists. You have to write a job description to entice these people to an opportunity.
  2. If you say things such as, “You will have worked at a place like <insert name of your favorite company here>” you may well miss great people. You are assuming a particular class of people. You have to change your assumptions about work history, school history, any kind of history. Again, the job description or ad has to be about an opportunity where people can learn and grow.
  3. You have to look at how they have learned in their resume.
  4. You have to look at their technical leadership roles. Yes, they will show you technical leadership in their list of accomplishments. They will have made things better in any number of dimensions.
  5. You need to look at the non-technical skills, such as facilitation, collaboration, coaching, initiative, taking small steps to make progress, all the things I mentioned in Hiring for an Agile Team: Making Tradeoffs.

Remember, you want generalizing specialists. True specialists introduce a cost of delay into your projects. They end up with a queue of work and they introduce a delay, or they multitask.


Survey on Job Finding

A undergraduate student sent me this survey about finding a job. I said I would post it for him.

Here is the link:

If you are looking for a job, please help this Italian undergrad, studying business in Lisbon.

I am not affiliated with this program. I am doing this to help a student. Pietro, the student in question, sent me a nice email, so I thought I would help him out.


Do Your Ads Reflect Your Job and Culture?

If you are like many hiring managers I know, you don’t like to write job ads. You find them boring to write. When they are boring to write, many candidates find them boring to read.

You don’t have to make your ads boring. Have you read Pradeep Soundararajan’s ad for his VP? Here is his blog post about it, Beating the industry average and hiring smarter people.

Go read the ad and return. I’ll wait a minute or two. Watch his video.

Do you see how Pradeep incorporates his culture into his ad and his video? This is what hiring for cultural fit is all about.

Pradeep read my first hiring book and was highly influenced by it. I improved the cultural fit part and updated the how-to-write-an-ad chapter in Hiring Geeks That Fit.

Don’t write boring ads unless you are part of a boring company. It’s okay then. But, I bet you are not doing boring things. I bet you do exciting things.

Show your excitement. Show the results you want in an ad. Make the ad about the opportunity the candidate will discover in a job with you.

Don’t make the ad about the benefits. Don’t “sell” the company. Sell the job. If you have a great job that’s an opportunity, that’s all you have to do.

Of course, if you have a boring job that’s not an opportunity, you might have to sell the benefits, because that’s all you have to offer. If you are a hiring manager, you might want to change that. Just a thought.

Make your job ads reflect the opportunity you are offering and your culture. Maybe your culture isn’t quite like Moolya’s. But, I bet it’s not too button-down. Don’t make a button-down ad if your culture isn’t button-down. Make your ads reflect your culture and see what happens. For guidance, read Hiring Geeks That Fit.


Six Tips for Interviewing Scrum Masters, Part 2

Now that you know what you expect from your Scrum Master’s job (the deliverables), and you know the essential and desirable skills (the first three tips), you can focus on creating the interview questions and audition. (If you have not yet read Six Tips for Interviewing Scrum Masters, Part 1 for the first three tips, please do so now.)

Tip 4: Create Behavior-Description Questions for Your Scrum Master Based on Essential Qualities, Preferences, and Non-Technical Skills

For initiative, you might ask behavior-description questions like these:

  • Give me an example of a recent time you thought the team was stuck. How did you know the team was stuck and what did you do? (You want to know if the SM was command-and-control, interfering or helpful.)
  • Tell me about a time when your Product Owner was convinced the story was as small as possible, but the story was a month long. Have you encountered something like this? (Maybe a month is longer than what the candidate encountered. Maybe it wasn’t the PO. Listen to their experience.) What happened? (Listen for what the SM did or did not do. Different Scrum Masters facilitate differently. There Is No Right Answer.)
  • Tell me about a recent time the team had many stories in progress and didn’t finish at the end of a sprint. What happened? (Listen for what the SM did or did not do. Different Scrum Masters facilitate differently. There Is No Right Answer.)

For flexibility, consider these questions:

  • What do you consider negotiable in a Scrum team? Why? Give me a recent example of that flexibility.
  • Give me an example of a time you and the team were stymied by something. What happened?
  • Have you ever needed to compromise as a Scrum Master? Tell me about it.

Again, you have to listen for the context and what the Scrum Master did in the different context for the project and the organization. There is no right answer. There are answers that don’t fit your context. Make sure you keep reading down to see my question about learning from past experiences.

For perseverance, you might like these questions:

  • Tell me about a time you advocated for something you wanted.
  • Tell me about a work obstacle you had to overcome.
  • Tell me about a time you had to maintain focus when it seemed everyone else was losing their focus.

Do you see the pattern? Apply behavior-description questions to your essential qualities, preferences and non-technical skills.

Tip 5: Create at Least One Audition Based on Deliverables

Back in Six Tips for Interviewing Scrum Masters, Part 1, I said that you needed to define deliverables. I suggested a potential list of 10 deliverables. You might have these candidate auditions:

  • Facilitate a standup
  • Facilitate a retrospective
  • Look at a Scrum board and tell you what it means
  • Look at a team’s measurements and tell you what they mean

I’m not saying these are the best auditions, because I don’t know what you need Your Scrum Master to do. These are candidate auditions. I have a lot more about how to create auditions in Hiring Geeks That Fit.

Tip 6: Ignore Certifications and Look for the Growth Mindset

I have never been a fan of certifications. If I have to choose between a candidate with a certification and a candidate with a growth mindset, I’ll select the candidate with the growth mindset. (Remember, you can buy a certification by taking a class. That’s it.) Certifications are good for learning. They are not good for helping people prove they have executed anything successfully.

When you interview for the growth mindset, you ask behavior-description questions. When they answer in a way that intrigues you, you ask, “What did you learn from that?” (a reflective hypothetical question). Then ask, “How have you put that learning into practice?” (a behavior-description question). Now, you have yourself a terrific conversation, which is the basis for a great interview.

Okay, there are my six tips for hiring a Scrum Master. If you want to understand how to hire without fear, read Hiring Geeks That Fit.


Six Tips for Interviewing Scrum Masters, Part 1

People want to know the “secret sauce” for hiring Scrum Masters and agile coaches. I wish it was easy to provide a standard set of questions.

Because your agile team is unique, your questions should be different. However, there are some common qualities, preferences, and non-technical skills among Scrum Masters.

First, do a job analysis for your Scrum Master. I have met teams who needed an agile project manager because no one was in the same place. I have met teams who needed an account manager, because they were consultants. I wrote about this problem in Which “Scrum Master” Are You Hiring? I also did a potential job analysis for a servant leader/Scrum Master in What Do You Look for in a Servant Leader or a Scrum Master? The chances of this being the correct job analysis for your Scrum Master are not so good, given what I see in organizations.

Tip 1: Define Your Scrum Master’s Deliverables

Since every team and organization I work with is unique, you need to do your own job analysis. You do. For the sake of argument, let’s assume the Scrum Master has these deliverables:

  1. Coach team(s). (If you want to be a great Scrum Master, look at Michael James’ Scrum Master checklist. A great Scrum Master coaches one team.)
  2. Facilitate team meetings and Scrum rituals.
  3. Ensure information radiators are up to date.
  4. Looks at the team’s process and sees if the team need other radiators.
  5. Advocates for the team.
  6. Identifies and removes team impediments.
  7. Coaches on agile practices.
  8. Helps team see what they are doing to see how they can improve.
  9. Coaches on technical practices.
  10. Helps the team become self-sufficient.

You are not going to ask questions about each of these deliverables. However, you would use these deliverables to create an audition.

Tip 2: Define Your Scrum Master’s Essential Qualities, Preferences, and Non-Technical Skills

Note that I said the essential qualities, preferences, and non-technical skills. Maybe your Scrum Master needs fewer than what I have below. Maybe you are starting a transition and your Scrum Master needs more. Maybe you need something different.

You would use the essential qualities, preferences, and non-technical skills to create behavior-description questions:

  • Initiative
  • Flexibility
  • Communications
  • Resilience
  • Determination
  • Perseverance
  • Ability to find another option
  • Recognition of management power, but not intimidated by it
  • Ability to use that power

Notice that these are all interpersonal skills. A Scrum Master works with people—people in the team, people in management, people across the organization. It’s all about the people.

If you have desirable qualities, preferences, and non-technical skills, note them. If you have two candidates who are “equal,” you may decide to use the desirables to decide between the candidates.

Tip 3: Define Your Scrum Master’s Essential Technical Skills

I have trouble with with teams who need a Scrum Master who understands tools and technology. That’s missing the point of a servant leader. I understand Scrum Masters who understand the domain—that’s understanding the risks and helping management understand why they need to remove obstacles. But, if the Scrum Master is getting involved in the coding or the testing or the UX design (or whatever), the SM is not facilitating the entire team.

If you define too many technical skills, the Scrum Master is not making sure the Product Owner is available to see the team’s progress on stories. The SM is not making sure the PO is making stories small. The SM is not making sure the team is delivering something of value every single day, or more often. The SM is not helping the team review their process if the SM is doing the technical work of the team.

Be very careful if you have a SM who is a working member of the team. I say this in Hiring Geeks That Fit:

Don’t ask people—managers or not—to work at the strategic and tactical levels. No one can. The tactical, day-to-day issues win. Always. Or, the strategic work wins. But they can’t both win. Never.

A Scrum Master takes a more strategic look at the team’s work than a team member does. That’s because the SM facilitates the process. That’s by design.

Okay, I’ll post Part 2 tomorrow.


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