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Peer Recruiting: Let The Engineers Hire the New Scrum Master - Part I

The following guide to peer recruiting is based on my own experience in participating in the recruiting of such team members with Scrum-related roles over the last five years. This article will cover the Scrum master role.

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Peer Recruiting is the new hiring: In the near future, all creative, technology-based organizations will need to abandon the command and control structures that served the industrial world of the 20th century so well. Instead, they will reorganize themselves around autonomous teams to deal with the complexity and pace of innovation of the 21st century. 

In such an agile world, recruiting will become a team decision, and the role of the human resources department will change into a supportive one. Recruiters will need to become servant leaders or facilitators, guiding the peer recruiting process. 

The following guide to peer recruiting is based on my own experience in participating in the recruiting of such team members with Scrum-related roles over the last five years. This first article will cover the Scrum master role. 

I. Peer Recruiting and the New Role of HR

In the near future, all creative, technology-based organizations will need to abandon the command & control structures that served the industrial world of the 20th century so well. 

Instead, they will become self-organized structures, built around autonomous teams. (Think General Stanley McChrystal: “Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World”). 

Note: A good intro in the idea of the “Team of Teams” from an organizational point of view is Culture First’s podcast: Team of Thrones

In such an agile world, recruiting will become a team decision, and the role of the human resources department will change into a supportive one. Recruiters will need to become servant leaders or facilitators in this peer recruiting process. 

The Role of the HR

Peer recruiting does not imply, that HR will be rendered obsolete. On the contrary, HR will in the future continue being a major contributor to the success of the whole organization. However, HR’s role will change from choosing someone from the candidate pool and present that individual to the team as the new teammate. Instead, HR will support the team picking the “right” candidate and ensure that the legal and administrative side is being taken care of. 

Typical tasks of the peer recruiting process, that HR will provide to a team, therefore, comprise of: 

  • Creating the remuneration package for the position in question (in compliance with the organization’s principles)
  • Handling contractual and administrative issues (social security, visas, work permits etc.
  • Supporting the team creating a job advertisement (if required)
  • Placing job advertisement and run corresponding campaigns
  • Doing background checks and pre-screenings of applicants
  • Organize interviews and trial days (from travel arrangements, and meet & greet to introducing the organization)
  • Collecting the team’s feedback after interviews or trial days
  • Handling the signing of the contract
  • Finally, kicking-off the onboarding process for the new teammate.

These steps hold a significant opportunity for HR to become a change agent for the organization, contributing to its agile transition by ensuring that new hires will have the required agile mindset. 

Why Bother With the Inclusion of the Team at All?

You may wonder why a change of process will be required in the first place? 

There are plenty of reasons, my top three being: 

  1. It’s consequent. On the one side, the team is empowered to make decisions that directly impact the return on (product) investment. On the other, they are being patronized by deciding on new teammates for them? 
  2. It also means the team has skin in the game. And they will be motivated to go the extra mile to make the new connection work. Now, it is their responsibility, too.
  3. Last but not least, not involving the team immediately signals to all candidates, that your organization isn’t agile, but merely “doing Agile”—a weak value proposition in the war for talent with an agile mindset.

The Current Status: The “How to Hire a Scrum Master” Survey

For about three weeks prior to this article, I have been running a poll “How Does Your Organization Hire a Scrum Master?”, and so far almost 240 participants have contributed: 

Peer recruiting survey results: How to Hire a Scrum Master in Agile Times

It turns out that about 18% of organizations, that are supposedly agile, delegate the final hiring decision to the team itself. 

Note: The survey is still open for voting, please join and enhance the sample size

Now, let’s have a detailed look at the proposed process, which has been proven to be motivating as well as successful several times so far in different organizations. 

II. The Eight Steps Peer Recruiting Process of Hiring a Scrum Master

1. What Kind of Scrum Master Are You Looking For?

This is the question you will need to answer in the first place: 

What is the purpose of building autonomous teams in your organization? Does the organization want to become (or stay) agile? Or is the organization just “doing agile”? 

Given that the original Scrum motto of “inspect and adapt” meanwhile turned into a quasi-religiously followed set of principles—as taught in any official Scrum certification training—, this question is less trivial than it sounds. 

The majority of applicants for a Scrum master role, I have met so far, were following exactly this dogmatic set of principles. And I am skeptical that those applicants would make a good addition to any agile organization. It is all about mindset, not skills. (Read also: Scrum Master Anti Patterns: Beware of Becoming a Scrum Mom or Scrum Pop.

So, in the “team of teams” universe, you should always hire for mindset. While you can easily teach skills, training someone unsuitable in the right mindset will be futile most of the time. Which is also the reason, that in this agile, and complex world formalized, certified experience rarely matters. 

Hence, the following description is targeting organizations that want to become agile. (See also “Scrum Master Certifications—A Necessity?” paragraph below.) 

2. Create a Job Advertisement

In an ideal world, there wouldn’t be a necessity to run a job ad. Someone in the product development organization would personally know a suitable individual and introduce her to the team. (And the organization.) 

Unfortunately, truly agile people—those that are not merely sticking to the letters of their Scrum certification manual—are in short supply. So there probably will be the need to create a job ad for the website, as well as other channels. 

I strongly recommend to kick-off the collaboration between the team and HR at this point. Most ads that HR departments produce for agile jobs are simply awful. Their usual “I don’t know what this is all about, but I have to come up with an ad by 12 pm, so I copied the text from a competitor” approach scares away suitable candidates, because they sense the lack of competence. 

Instead, I suggest to sit together with the whole team, share a coffee, and get copy of the ad right, by being authentic, and human, and reflecting the culture of the organization. 

3. Run the Job Advertisement

That is the HR department’s job. However, the team may have good suggestions outside the typical LinkedIn approach. Why not try Reddit, for example? Or sponsoring some meetups of the local agile community? 

4. Pre-Screening Applicants

It would be helpful for the team, if HR could pre-screen applicants. This could be the standard background check. Or a first analysis if a candidate is suitable for formal reasons or in compliance with internal programs of the hiring organization, for example, diversity initiatives. 

Unsuitable candidates should then be at least flagged, and probably be removed from the pool. (Although the team should be aware of that for transparency reasons.) 

5. Discuss Suitable Applicants with the Team

The team members should then be provided with access to all suitable candidates, preferably in the form of anonymised CVs: No photos, no age, no gender, no ethnic group, no religious believes—any information on candidates that might trigger a bias of whatever kind should be excluded. 

Also, you will to normalize information on a candidate’s public profile, e.g. blog or Twitter or other accounts. A summary such as “A is actively contributing to the Scrum community by running a meetup as well as creating a newsletter with 800 subscribers“ will suffice for the selection process. 

If this approach requires a scissor, glue, and a Xerox machine, so be it. Please keep in mind that these biases are triggered on autopilot, and that there is not willpower known to mankind that could prevent biases from interfering with the selection process. 

Then have a joined meeting—HR and all team members—and discuss whom to invite for the in-person interviews. (A simple dot-voting will suffice in the end.) 

6. Running the Interviews

The free “Hiring: 38 Scrum Master Interview Questions to Avoid Agile Imposters” PDF provides a large set of questions (and possible answers), spanning five categories. 

Instead of one or two team members having a long interview with a candidate each, I recommend to run interviews of 30 minutes each with as many team members as possible. The trick is that you split the questionnaire evenly among all of the interviewers and later aggregate the answers. Thus, you will obtain more constructive feedback from all the interviewers. 

Tip: Create interview teams of two teammates each: One is asking questions, while the other is taking notes. After half of the interview has passed, they switch roles. The reason for that is that most people are not good at leading the interview and at the same time take meaningful notes. Two people, however, will have a much better chance to recognize signals on the candidate’s side, for example, particular answers or body language. 

Note: It is important that exactly the same procedure applies to all candidates otherwise the results are less comparable. 

It is a good practice to run these debriefings to aggregate the answers right after an interview round with a candidate. Target for objectivity and have HR handle this task. They are the professionals. 

The most important question to answer, however, is the “Would you like work with the candidate?” question. And that one should be asked the next morning. Sleeping on it will sober the interviewers, and thus provide a path to a better decision. 

Tip: Go with your first thought, and walk away from any candidate who will have lost the “yes” overnight. Don’t rationalize your decision, as people can be taught news skills, but they won’t change their personality. The trial day is an expensive exercise, and should not be wasted. 

Candidates that are not considered for a trial day should receive an answer, detailing the reasons for the decision. I know that legal departments tend to freak out over this. They usually fear legal action, for example, on grounds of discrimination legislation. However, respect and transparency are vital values of the agile community, and should be honored accordingly in my eyes. 

Finally, invite the candidates that the team would be interested in working with for a trial day. Let the team make a suggestion for a date, as they need to align a trial day with their own sprint rhythm. 

Stay tuned to read Part II!

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agile best practices,team building,scrum,scrum master

Published at DZone with permission of Stefan Wolpers, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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