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Five Ways Lean | Agile Enterprises Rock At Onboarding

Posted By Fabiola Eyholzer, Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Lean | agile enterprises are more successful in absorbing new hires and getting them up to speed. They naturally embrace and ignite people to inspire and make them part of something great. And their onboarding is a real kick-starter on so many levels: it is instant, it is effective, it is sustainable – and above all it is fun.

Sometimes hiring managers are so driven to fill a position they neglect to set new employees up for success through proper onboarding — the process of absorbing new hires and getting them up to speed.

It goes without saying that failing to integrate new employees can lead to delayed results, frustrated co-workers, and disrupted team dynamic or even worse: losing your new employee due to “hire’s remorse” and having to start the recruiting process all over again.

Organizations have long ago realized the need and benefits of onboarding and many have implemented an array of initiatives like town hall meetings, boot camps, roundtable discussions, meetings with key insiders, and field experiences.

Unfortunately, many are poorly organized, inefficient, and boring. How can you expect excellence from your new hires if your orientation program is a sloppy amalgamation of tedious paperwork, boring policies and procedures, technology hassles, and boring company presentations?

Even appealing onboarding programs typically do not sustainably deal with the core difficulty of embracing and connecting people, giving them a common sense of purpose and making them part of something great. And since employees are most impressionable during the first 60 days on the job, it is the time to really unleash their passion for the job and show them the value of their contribution.
Lean | agile enterprises do! Here are five ways how they rock onboarding.

  • Feature pre-integration activities
  • Create momentum on the first day
  • Integrate into empowered, collaborative teams
  • Inspire meaning and purpose
  • Turn colleagues into mentors

1. Feature pre-integration activities

When people sign a contract they are excited and eager to get started. For a powerful inclusion it is important to keep up that buzz and show them that they are now part of a great organization.

It means staying in touch and communicating on a regular basis. Especially when there is a long overlap between signing the contract and onboarding. Keep them informed about what is going on with the organization and their team. If possible have them join team sessions like learning clubs or social gatherings.

That way they get accustomed to interact with their new colleagues and become part of the team – long before their assignment starts. So they are ready for an important milestone: The first day on the job.

2. Create momentum on the first day

The first day is basically your last chance to make a positive first impression on your new employee. That is why we make the first day about:

  • A warm welcome – Have that desk ready with a welcome committee and gift bag with some company merchandise at hand.
  • Personal interactions – Make sure to connect with colleagues and shareholders.
  • Showing character – Allow your culture and the uniqueness of your employees and teams shine through.
  • Letting new hires feel productive – Give them something to work on immediately and help them accomplish it.

There is no better way to engage new hires than to let them leave the office with a sense of belonging and achievement. That is what will make the first day memorable – in the best sense possible – and it will create momentum.

Anyone familiar with sports in any capacity will know the importance of momentum: One little success can change the demeanor of an individual and an entire team. And when momentum begins to grow, confidence builds, and the impossible becomes achievable.

3. Integrate into empowered, collaborative teams

Targeted pre-integration activities and getting the first day right are important. But lean | agile organizations go one step further: They culturally embrace lean | agile values and principles, creating a stimulating and interactive work environment within a flexible loose organizational network, that is formed around inspired teams.

And new hires are immediately included into those empowered, collaborative, self-organizing teams. So they are an integral part of something great right from the start. They don’t have to sit behind a desk reading some manuals and doing back ground research. Instead they are thrown right into the thick of things and kick-off in intense discussions and supportive actions with teammates.

Together they strategize on how to generate customer value, approach new challenges, and get things done. It is the start of shared goals, meaning, and purpose. 

4. Inspire meaning and purpose

There is nothing more inspiring than doing a job that has meaning. I am not talking about having “meaningful work”, which refers to the task itself. I am talking about the pride someone takes in what they do. People want to know why their job exists and that it has meaning – that they’re helping someone else or making the world a better place.

When people understand the deeper purpose behind their work, they are likely to be more satisfied and more productive. Then you give it an extra boost by connecting their personal goals (intrinsic purpose) with your shared objectives to provide the extrinsic purpose. (You will have verified they are compatible during the hiring process).

Agile methodologies like scrum (the most popular one) are great at providing shared meaning and focusing on customer value. And each iteration (work cycles of typically 1-4 weeks) is packed with customer focus, commitment, interactions, collaboration, continuous learning, knowledge sharing, feedbacks and retrospectives. 

5. Turn colleagues into mentors

Empowering new hires and teaming them up with inspiring people to work collaboratively towards shared goals is key in lean | agile. From day one, new employees get tons of personal interactions, hands-on support and direct advice.

It is fellow team members and stakeholders who naturally act as leaders, coaches and mentors. They guarantee training on the job, job enrichment, learning & development simply because it is so strongly embedded in lean | agile structures and work methods. There is no need to wait for that scheduled feedback session with HR and/or a manager.

Lean | agile leaders hire the best people, then get out of the way.

In such a vibrant environment, new talents (or old talents in new roles) are swift to embrace their role and identify with their team and organization. They feel a sense of belonging, engagement, and commitment. This boosts their performance considerably faster than in any other setting.

That is why lean | agile is such an effective onboarding approach on so many levels: it is instant, it is powerful, it is sustainable – and above all it is fun. Making it a valuable experience not only for your new hires, but the whole team.

Are you ready to spark the passion of your talents?

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Advice to New Graduates

Posted By AgileCareers, Wednesday, September 21, 2016

First, congratulations on the completion and welcome to the start of your career. You've put effort into studying for this next phase. Now, it’s time to apply that well-earned knowledge.

There are many paths your career can take from this starting point, and most are not visible from the starting line. For the last 30 years the trend has been for people to change jobs every three to four years, especially in the early stages after graduation. This has as much to do with accelerated change in the economy as it does with personal motivation. Being able to accept and adapt to change will be important in determining whether you are satisfied and happy with the journey or not.

As one of the 12 principles of Agile is to harness change for competitive advantage, consider applying the method to your career.

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable products.

Be an altruistic team member and deliver value to the team. Team members who are all about themselves avoid the grunt work whenever possible, passing it off to other team members. They are more interested in proving their technical prowess than delivering value to customers. The people around them may respect their technical abilities, but they are not well liked and don’t end up in fulfilling roles.

Volunteer for the more mundane assignments, help your teammates whenever you can, and focus on the success of the project. You may get taken advantage of once in a while, but your teammates and supervisors will like you. As a result, you will develop a solid network that will enable you to move between teams and companies without difficulty. Opportunity and good money almost always follow.

Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.

Chase the opportunity, not the money, when considering change. Being solely motivated by money and always looking for the next position that pays more, makes a person appear to have a minimal amount of loyalty to employers or anyone else. They often burn bridges and end up both unsatisfied and unhappy.

Alternatively, being the best you can be within your area of expertise means that you are not selfish in choosing positions based on the opportunity. Think about whether the position well help you to grow. Money is important, but you should also be willing to show that it is not your sole focus. Be willing to take a pay cut for the right opportunity – an opportunity that helps you refine a skill or add a new skill. This will help you build alliances, make a positive name for yourself, and generally appear to be happy. In the end you won’t need to chase the money, it will chase you.

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

Enjoy yourself and the work you are doing. People who really don’t like what they’re doing may make a ton of money, but they’re miserable. They are toxic to the people around them and toxic to themselves.

Be the person who enjoys their work. Let go of the competitive points like the highest pay or longer hours and focus on work that fits you and your personality. You will be happier and people will like to be around you. You can be the person who lifts up those around you and, by doing so, lift up yourself.

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Take the time to check in with yourself and those close to you. Make sure that your current career path is working for you. People who let their career happen to them often wonder how they got to the place in their life where they have limited options or are at a dead end. They didn't take time to make adjustments early enough to create opportunities for themselves by learning a new skill or shifting industries.

Instead, when you reflect on what you have achieved, where you can improve, and where you can adjust, you are more active in creating your career. This includes learning from failures and changing either the circumstance (new employer or role) or how you approach the work you do (new technical or interpersonal skills). There are many opportunities and challenges in a career. Reflecting on how they occur and how you respond will make you more resilient for when the next one arrives.

Congratulations to those graduating from college this year! May you all prosper and be happy!


This blog post is based on Advice to Computer Science Grads – Class of 2016. Thank you to Quantix for allowing the use of this content.

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First Impressions Count When Hiring Agile Talent

Posted By Gez Smith, Tuesday, September 13, 2016

As the old saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression.

It’s true of people, and it’s also true of organisations. When hiring agile talent for your organisation, have you ever stopped to think that your hiring process might be the first impression your future employees get about your organisation, and how that might be setting the tone for their entire time with you? 

There are lots of different ways your hiring process could be giving the impression that your organisation isn’t a happy place for agile practitioners, or isn’t somewhere agile is expected to thrive. Let’s look at a few of them, and how you could stop them happening. 


The first thing is of course the advertisement for the job itself.

This is pretty easy to get right, just get someone internal who understands agile to write it, but it’s surprising how often organisations get it wrong. As some quick checks, make sure you’re spelling things right (it’s Scrum, not SCRUM), aren’t calling agile a process, and aren’t asking for irrelevant certifications like PRINCE2. In the Agile For Recruiters surveys I’ve been running, agile practitioners say that badly written job ads are often their way of spotting which organisations not to apply to. 

Assuming you get the job ad right though, what if the first round of the hiring process is some screening questions?

Many large organisations use these, and they seem like a tempting way to sift and filter large volumes of applications. However, one of the four key elements of the agile manifesto says we value ‘Individuals and interactions over processes and tools’. Filter a candidate in or out on the basis of an automated test before they’ve even spoken to anyone, and you’re strongly suggesting your organisation doesn’t get this part of the manifesto. Besides, anyone with half a mind can game these tests pretty easily. They don’t add value, and they shout that you don’t get agile. Personally, I wouldn’t use them. 

The same goes for CV scoring software. Not everyone knows about this at the moment, but there are programs out there that scan CVs for keywords and score them on the candidate’s suitability for the job. I can’t think of anything much less agile than these systems, or anything much more ridiculous. They just turn job applications into tests of candidate’s ability to get the right keyword densities in their CVs. The candidate may even have outsourced this task to one of the many companies that you can pay to get your keyword densities right. These systems really are a terrible idea in agile hiring. 

Say you don’t have those tests though, don’t use CV scoring software, and applications are all read and screened by real people, who then draw up a shortlist of candidates to interview face to face. Great stuff. However, what if that interview is then completely formulaic? One where the interviewer is given a fixed set of questions they have to ask, drawn from a pre-approved question bank, and candidates have to ‘give an example of a time when they have…’, in order to be scored out of five on each answer. Again, you’re valuing processes and tools over individuals and interactions. Not to say each interview should just be a freestyle random chat about just anything, but it’s not difficult to create a fair and equal interview for each candidate that’s based around human conversation rather than reading out a written exam. 

Say you get through all of this though. You don’t filter with screening questions, you let real people draw up shortlists, and you run human interviews face-to-face. Great stuff, but there’s still one big thing that could ruin the fantastic first impression you’ve been giving; your reference checking process. 

Principle five of the agile manifesto says “Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done”. 

Yet nothing says ‘I don’t trust you’ like a reference checking process. 

Of course, there’s a problem here. On the on hand, taking references is all about a lack of trust, otherwise you’d just take at face value what a candidate has written on their CV and said at interview. On the other hand, it’s a process that probably does still need to exist. If no-one ever checked any references, I’d be CEO of Apple by now, at least. So how do you square this circle?

Well one simple way to do it is to make the referencing process as simple as it can be. If you insist on checking every single detail a candidate has put on their CV, wanting certificates from every online training course they’ve done, or demanding a reference from every unpaid voluntary role they’ve ever done, no matter how short, then you’re screaming that your organisation isn’t built on trust. Perhaps just check the references that matter, and only ask to see the more significant certificates, like their degree.

A truly agile organisation could go further than this though. Agile people love feedback.

We also use a style of leadership called servant leadership, and one of the ten principles of that is empathy. So how about you turn the reference checking into an explicit session of feedback and empathy?

Rather than contacting previous employers just to check the facts of what a candidate has said, use it as an opportunity to gather some feedback for the candidate too. You’d need to agree it with the candidate first of course, but if you did, you’d be demonstrating clearly that you hold true to agile values such as transparency and collaboration, working with the candidate right from the start to help their personal growth. 

On top of this, another element of empathy is understanding the experiences that have shaped the people you’re working with.

So perhaps you could use the reference checking process to get a sense of the organisation or organisations the candidate has been working for previously. So you wouldn’t just be finding out about the candidate, you’d be finding out about their previous employers too. Getting a sense of the experiences and environments that have shaped the candidate will really help build empathy with them once they join your organisation. 

On top of this, doing both of these things gets round another big problem reference checking can cause. Sometimes you come out of a final round interview all pumped up after a great conversation about an exciting role with some people you love to work with. They offer you the role, and then you have to stop talking to the people whilst the references are checked and you find out if you will actually be working with each other. Using the reference process to build empathy and help the candidate grow gives you two excellent reasons to keep those conversations going, meaning that once the candidate does start, the conversation and collaboration is already open and strong. 

Great agile talent doesn’t grow on trees. 

In many sectors it’s a seller’s market right now, with the great candidates holding most of the cards. Organisations that work hard to give the right first impressions to candidates, and demonstrate that theirs are workplaces where the agile values are lived and breathed every day, are far more likely to attract the best talent and so succeed with agile. Your hiring process is a huge part of your first impression. Have a think about what it’s really saying…

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Attracting and Retaining Talent

Posted By Meghan Robinson, Tuesday, September 13, 2016


Attracting and retaining talent in the highly competitive world of software development is an art. There are more jobs than candidates in many of the key Agile team member domains. Retaining talent must be an integrated aspect of the leadership culture within your team or organization, to maintain team cohesion and reach high-performing levels. Leveraging good leadership principles, understanding people's "why," and using the Truly Human Leadership approach increase your team's odds of holding onto team members with high value.

Managing is hard. Leading is even more difficult. In January 2015, there was a 5:1 ratio of job vacancies to unemployed workers in technology and math1. The technology space is very clearly in a buyer's market. Yet in software development, we look to leaders to attract top talent, then maintain their interest in staying with our teams. Such a tall order to fill, yet some teams manage to pull it off. How?

The most critical aspect of building and curating high-performing teams is gaining an understanding of organizational development and criticality of team dynamics in Scrum. These principles are foundational to building any sustainable team momentum. Having buy-in on why you are looking to structure your organization in an Agile fashion before placing your first person is a time investment that has substantial return as you traverse the leadership journey. How the team is structured must evolve and change as time passes, but the why must be steadfast. You must form and sell it to your organizational thought leaders, then use the negotiated outcome as your guiding principle as future decisions are needed.

Attracting talent

Once there is a clear picture of why you are looking to build your teams geared for high performance, you must be methodical about how you invite new people to audition for your team. I have recently hired a few software developers on a product that has a SQL backend and C#.Net as the service layer. I can say with high confidence that nearly every resume submitted for your role (assuming you have technical requirements in the posting) will satisfy enough of the quantitative aspects that hiring would seem simple. But in product development today, we are building some of the most complex, sophisticated, and user-friendly systems ever in world history. Gone are the days of pulling a lever and pressing a button to stamp out technology on an assembly line. We need craftspeople, artisans, and creative people, and that does not translate easily to a CV. The more qualitative aspects of a candidate must be uncovered in the very human process of interviewing. My interview process employs three levels of screening:

  1. Resume review (quantitative). Does the candidate have the requisite skills on paper to do the job?
  2. Technical screening (quantitative with a leaning on qualitative). Does the candidate on the other end of the phone match the resume? How does this person communicate verbally things that are technical in nature? How does the conversational rhythm flow with the technical lead from my team?
  3. Team interview (qualitative with a leaning on quantitative). How does the candidate work with our current team? How does our team flow with the candidate?

This process is imperfect, but the same is true of all interview processes. A hiring decision is a calculated guess that is mitigated by leveraging a process and the people that are active participants. We do not offer a position on our team if the interview team is not unanimously in agreement. A "maybe" is a "no." If you don't believe in the person in your trenches, you will form cracks in the trust. Because of the various factors, our hiring window is longer than that of some companies, but our turnover is much lower than the industry standard as well. As your team grows, inviting new members on board is a great responsibility for the existing team members, which is taken very seriously. When you build something beautiful over time, allowing someone to come in late in the game is an honor to be given, and the team is hyperaware of this fact.

Retaining talent

When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute. — Simon Sinek

Once your team is performing, maintaining their interest and engagement is critical. It is reported in 2014, more than 68% of employees were disengaged in the workplace2. What's worse, the effort spent attracting the candidates to fill out your team is lost if we cannot get them the work they seek to stay interested. If we do not build teams and backlogs of meaningful, fulfilling work, we will enter the "leaking bucket" paradigm of employee attrition.

As leaders, coaches, and team members, we have one charter to keep our members engaged at the highest level: Make them feel safe. We should vigilantly work to resolve personal danger by speaking regularly with the team members. Within the team context, we need to respect impediments reported in the Daily Scrums as well as those identified in the sprint retrospectives.

To keep an employee engaged, you need to also understand what factors drive that person. And the only way to understand the "why" in each team member is for leaders to invest in that team member. Regular one-on-ones, friendly conversation, and trust-based relationships are the only means by which to learn what motivates that team member. Engagement is not the output of a universally applied checklist; it requires personalization and tuning with each team member individually. The approaches need to be taken with care and intentional optimism toward a positive outcome. Identifying the motivating factors for each team member allows leaders to develop unique reward plans for each of them.

Team happiness and engagement is equally important to individual engagement. One could easily argue that losing the engagement of a team is directly more impactful to delivering business value than any other singular issue. Teams should vocalize early indicators of disengagement in Scrums and retrospectives. As leaders, ignoring these issues enables team disengagement and fosters organizational anti-patterns. By removing the impediments, there is a compacting return to the team that the blockage is cleared, and there is a residually based trust relationship with the team and the organization. It is an obvious choice to clear team impediments whenever possible, as quickly as possible. And when it is not possible to clear an impediment, clearly communicate back to the reporting team why it cannot be addressed at this time to foster transparency.

Too often, teams strive to meet a sprint or release goal and lose site of the compounding goal of an engaged team. Establishing transparent communication, trust-based feedback cycles with individuals and teams, and being actively involved in clearing reported impediments are simple steps that should be taken to maximize team engagement.



2 - See more at:


This article was originally posted on Scrum Alliance

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The Mindset of a ScrumMaster

Posted By Meghan Robinson, Wednesday, August 31, 2016

I have been familiar with the Scrum method for developing software for a number of years. Scrum is a simple tool: it defines just a few meetings, artifacts, and roles. So the basic mechanics of scrum are easy to pick up. Using Scrum to its fullest potential, however, requires a much deeper understanding.

One area I have struggled with is the role of ScrumMaster. The basic responsibilities are straight-forward, consisting of activities like facilitating meetings, dealing with impediments, and updating burndown charts. But, like Scrum, it is not a question of what to do as ScrumMaster but how to go about doing it. Over the past few years when I have had opportunities to interact with experienced ScrumMasters, I have noticed that they seem to have a different mindset when it comes to dealing with teams, especially in regards to the Agile principle of self-organizing teams.

So I was excited recently to have the opportunity to take a ScrumMaster course from Mark Levison. I made it my goal in the course to learn more about the mindset of great ScrumMasters and I wanted to share what I learned.

Growing a High Performance Team

One key insight I had came from a comment by Mark that Scrum is a method of growing a high performance team. On the surface, Scrum seems to be about producing a product, and thus it would make sense that the ScrumMaster's goal is to guide the team in creating a great product. But when you view Scrum as really being about building a great team, then the role of the ScrumMaster shifts correspondingly to that of helping the team grow and improve. This is, I believe, at the heart of what being a great ScrumMaster is.

The implication of this is that the ScrumMaster tries to minimize what they do directly and instead helps the team do things for themselves. Below are some examples of doing this that were discussed in the course:

  • When dealing with impediments, the ScrumMaster should only directly work on them as a last resort. First, see if the team can handle the impediment on their own. If not, then see if the team can be coached through the resolution. Usually the only impediments that the ScrumMaster will take on themselves are external organizational problems far beyond the scope of the team. For example, if the team is having a problem with how a separate operations team is doing deployments, then rather than the ScrumMaster talking to ops on their own, bring along a team member, introduce them to the ops team, and enable them to work out their issues with ops directly.

  • Prefer asking socratic questions of the team instead of telling the team what to do. For example, if the daily scrum is taking too long and is not focused enough, then rather than telling the team what to do raise this issue with the team, perhaps offering some suggestions, and let the team decide what to do.

By helping a team to do things on their own you build up their mastery, and by letting a team make their own decisions you build up their autonomy. Mastery and autonomy are two of the three drivers of internal motivation as per the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. If you always tell a team what to do and how to do it, they will not only fail to develop initiative but will develop a dependency upon you to provide all the answers, thus losing their innate initiative.

Servant Leader

I have heard the ScrumMaster role described as a servant leader. The ScrumMaster does not manage the team nor has formal authority over the team. Instead, they act as a humble steward supporting the team and product owner as depicted in the inverted organizational chart below.

Part of being a good leader is removing obstructions and obstacles from the way of the team and acting as a shield to protect the team from outside interference. This is part of being a ScrumMaster, but there is more to it than just this. For example, Mark described how one method he uses to assess a team is to sit in the team area and simply watch and listen as the team does their work. The following questions provide some examples of things to look for:

  • How often are team members interacting with one another? Or do they stay silent in their cubicles?

  • Who communicates with who? Do developers only talk to developers, or do they talk to the product owner (or business analyst)?

  • What is the tone of the communication? How do testers communicate defects to developers and how do the developers respond? Are people positive or frustrated?

  • How many interruptions are there from people external to the team?

This practice struck me as being identical to the Toyota principle of Genchi Genbutsu, translated as "go and see at the place where the work is done".

Continuous Improvement

Teams do not start off as high performing. Only through continual improvement can teams reach this state. Therefore a key responsibility of ScrumMasters is to cultivate a culture of continuous improvement and to encourage ongoing growth. Some tips for doing this:

  • Put effort into the retrospective agenda to tailor it to the needs of the team and to adjust the activities from time to time to keep the energy level within the meeting high.

  • Follow up on improvements identified within the retrospective to ensure they are actioned.

  • When observation of the team indicates that changes are necessary, try suggesting the smallest change that will lead to improvement. Smaller changes cause less resistance and are easier to adopt.

  • Encourage lots of experiments. Having the team commit to only trying a change for a limited period of time and then being able to evaluate afterwards whether to keep or discard the change overcomes a lot of resistance and can help cut through a lot of the debate over whether to adopt a change or not.

  • Coach team members one-on-one regarding individual needs.

In conclusion, the ultimate objective of the ScrumMaster is to put themselves out of a job by elevating the team to such a high level of performance that they can take over all the ScrumMaster responsibilities.

This article was originally posted on Basil Vandegriend: Professional Software Development 

Tags:  agile  continuous improvement  corporate culture  leadership  Scrum  team 

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