Where's Charlie?!

Developing Your Hiring Strategy
Are you inadvertently setting up a one-dimensional team? Managers regularly make statements to recruiters like, "I need another test engineer just like Charlie." Sometimes hiring people with very similar qualifications makes sense, but sometimes breaking the mold makes a better team.

"I need another test engineer, just like Charlie."

"I need another developer, just like Joe, Dan, or Sue."

Managers make these statements to recruiters all the time. Sometimes hiring people with very similar qualifications makes sense, but sometimes breaking the mold makes a better team. A hiring strategy can help you know when to look for more of the same, and when to break the mold.

When you create a hiring strategy, consider why you're building your team, and what you want to get from the team. I recently worked with a testing team where all  the testers were extremely capable and talented exploratory manual testers. These people found defects in the strangest places in the product. But these talented testers found it difficult to write down their test procedures. The test managers were concerned that the testers wouldn't be able to recreate the failures, so they requested that the testers create extremely detailed test scripts to document their testing.

The exploratory testers found this excruciating. These people use their senses and intuition to find defects in the product. Now they were asked to document something they couldn't even describe.

One of the hiring managers came to me and said, "JR, we need your help in putting together a get-well (improvement) plan for Charlie. He's wonderful at finding defects, but we can't get him to write anything down." Yet the company was looking for three more testers basically "just like Charlie." Their hiring plan was out of alignment with their personnel plan. I suggested that they stop looking for Charlie clones, and stop asking Charlie to do something he was not suited for. They didn't want to just get the testing work done faster, they wanted to get different, broader work done. One alternative was to augment Charlie with some test automation people-people who could write scripts and code to ystematically develop tests to walk through the product. Other alternatives included using capture-replay tools to record what Charlie did, and to pair Charlie up with another tester who could write the procedure as Charlie performed it.

So the test managers developed a hiring strategy by doing the following things:

  1. Listing all their projects. The managers listed projects using new technology in one column and projects that only used existing technologies in which the team had expertise in the other.
  2. Estimating how many of what kinds of people they would need for each project, and for how long. They thought about the deliverables they would need (test plans, test procedures, metrics), and they thought about the kinds of people they would need (planners, visionaries, catalysts, idea-a-minute generators).
  3. Estimating how many of the same people were needed for each project. How many Charlies did they need? If they only hired one automation expert, was that person going to be swamped the minute she walked in the door? The managers also tried to project out a couple of years to see what proportion of which kinds of people they would need.
  4. Identifying assumptions:
    • They wanted primarily permanent staff, with as few temporary staff as possible.
    • They wanted people to stick with a product for several releases, if possible. (Their current staff switched projects every month or so, thereby never increasing their detailed knowledge of the application.)
    • They wanted people to keep working at the company a long time, so they
      were willing to hire more junior people, train them, and create a job
      progression for them.
  5. Listing the deliverables they wanted from the entire test group, and which kinds of people would deliver which kinds of things.

Then the managers wrote job descriptions, developed the phone screens, and were able to start hiring against their open requirements in a couple of weeks.

So how can you make the most of your team by hiring the right mix of people? Before you start the search, ask yourself these questions.

Why are you hiring more people?

    • Are you trying to get the current work done, or done faster? Can you use more of the same people, or could you use different skills, temperaments, or adaptability?
    • Are you creating a new division, a new group, or a new project? Will it require different capabilities than the work you currently do?
    • Are you trying to add something to the team-some spark, some
    • competition, some new blood?

What is the current makeup of your team? Do you have all the right
personality and capability bases covered?

    • How adaptable is your staff now? If you hired different types of people, what would be the effect?
    • Having a combination of people on your team can make for more successful projects: planners and idea people, talkers and thinkers, visionaries and down-to-earth people, people who are sensitive to the mood of the group, and those who can analyze their way through any problem. Think about the temperaments and capabilities of those already in the group. I find that creating diversity across temperaments and adaptability, as well as gender and race, is key to creating a high-performing team.

I encourage you to take all these factors into consideration before going out to hire "another test engineer just like Charlie." A defect-finding dynamo like Charlie has indisputable value, but a team of Charlies is one-dimensional. Before you go down that path, maybe it's time to  develop a hiring strategy.

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