Six Behaviors to Consider for an Agile Team

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Summary:
If you've been tasked with creating an agile team, first consider what differentiates an agile team from a non-agile team. In this column, Johanna Rothman highlights six behaviors of people on successful agile teams that candidates for an agile team should possess.

Are agile team members different from people on other teams? Yes and no. Yes, because some of the behaviors we see on agile teams are more pronounced than those behaviors on non-agile teams. And, no, because we are talking about people!

But, successful agile team members exhibit certain behaviors more often than non-agile project team members, because agile requires these behaviors to create a successful team and product. If you've been tasked with creating an agile team, what qualities should you look for? Below are six key behaviors people on successful agile teams exhibit. I've also included interview questions to determine if an agile team candidate has what it takes to join a great agile team.

1. People Who Collaborate
People who can work together—really collaborate—are much more valuable than people who need to work alone. But, what does it mean to really collaborate?

The first thing you see in an agile team is that people work together on features. It's common on a non-agile team for people to take features or requirements and work on them alone, but that's uncommon on a well-running agile team, where several developers and a tester or two may work together to make sure they—as a team—have completed a story. You may see several testers working together to develop tests, or (one of my favorites) you may see developers and testers working together to develop the test automation framework for the project team.

The entire team works together to define, start, and finish features. Successful agile teams avoid the problem of having many features started but none finished at the end of the iteration, because they collaborate to complete features.

A question you can ask a candidate is "Think back to a recent project. Give me an example of a time you had to work with other people to make sure that you could finish something. What happened?"

2. People Who Ask for Help
It's not easy for many of us to ask for help. In many organizations, it's not even right to ask for help. Yet, people who can ask for help are people we want to hire for an agile team.

Why is asking for help so important? We all know something about the project, but none of us knows everything we need to know. So, we need to be able to ask for help, and we need to do this from a position of strength—not a position of weakness. On an agile team, it's not a problem to ask for help. In agile, we don't want to incur the delay of people being stuck before asking for help, and it's more important that the team deliver all the features the team committed to at the end of the erasure than that any one person be a hero.

Here's a question you could ask a candidate about his or her ability to ask for help: "Think back to your most recent project. Tell me about a time you did not understand something. What did you do?"

3. People Who are Willing to Take Small Steps and Get Feedback
Agile is all about feedback. We use iterations so we can do something and get some feedback. We build in increments so our customers have a chance to provide feedback on our work to date.

One of the behaviors you want to look for in a candidate is the ability to take small steps and get feedback on whatever work he or she performed. People who seem to need to finish a feature perfectly (whether those people are developers, testers, writers, or whoever) before anyone sees it are not well suited to an agile team.

One of the series of questions you can ask is "Tell me how you like to work. Think back to the last feature you worked on. Did you try to finish the whole thing before you asked for feedback?" Wait for the answer. Now, ask, "Why?" The candidate might tell you he or she had one shot at getting feedback. Or the candidate might say he or she was expected to complete everything perfectly. Now you can ask, "When you work on your projects outside of work, how do you work?"

About the author

Johanna Rothman's picture Johanna Rothman

Johanna Rothman, known as the “Pragmatic Manager,” helps organizational leaders see problems and risks in their product development. She helps them recognize potential “gotchas,” seize opportunities, and remove impediments. Johanna was the Agile 2009 conference chair. She is the technical editor for Agile Connection and the author of these books:

  • Manage Your Job Search
  • Hiring Geeks That Fit
  • Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects
  • The 2008 Jolt Productivity award-winning Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management
  • Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management
  • Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets and Science of Hiring Technical People

Johanna is working on a book about agile program management. She writes columns for Stickyminds.com and projectmanagementcom and blogs on her website, jrothman.com, as well on createadaptablelife.com.

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