Imagine this: You're in the midst of a high-stakes project, smoothly sailing with your well-established team, when suddenly, the need arises to bring in new members.
It's like a plot twist that shakes up the storyline, disrupting the harmony. Whether it's due to unforeseen circumstances, accelerated deadlines, or simply the ever-evolving nature of business, adding fresh faces to your team can feel like an uphill battle.
In this article, I'll share my personal experience and the invaluable lessons I learned about seamlessly and swiftly integrating new team members.
The Project that Put Us to test:
There we were, deeply engrossed in a project, when our product owner, Emma, dropped a bombshell: we had to revamp the product backlog, write new stories, and eliminate unnecessary ones. The pressure was on, and we needed to meet new deadlines and incorporate additional features. Our team huddled together, determined yet slightly frustrated, for three intense days of brainstorming, consulting with the customer, and devising a release plan. We had a solid plan in place, but would the higher-ups approve?
The Negotiation and a Surprise Addition:
In a nerve-wracking meeting with management, Emma presented our findings, assuring them that we could meet the new deadlines and deliver the requested features. However, there was a condition - we needed to bring in a specific team member, Ali. Management hesitated, considering Ali's current involvement in another project. But Emma made a compelling case, highlighting Ali's skills, understanding of our work, and alignment with our team's values. After some tough negotiation, management finally agreed to assign Ali to our project.
The Two-Step Integration Approach:
To ensure Ali's smooth integration into our team, Emma proposed a unique two-step approach that had proven successful in the past. First, Ali would embark on a journey of pair programming with each existing team member.
This would allow him to dive deep into our system, ask questions, and acquaint himself with our work. Fortunately, we were already advocates of pair programming and worked in a shared space, making the implementation of this approach seamless. However, we knew that initially, Ali would be more of an observer and learner, contributing less to the project.
But here's the twist: We decided to add a weekly written assessment for Ali. Yes, you read that right - an assessment! This assessment consisted of questions about our system's architecture, processes, and culture. We expected Ali to stumble and make mistakes at first, but the purpose was to identify areas for improvement and guide his learning. Emma shared an insightful analogy from her own experience of learning a foreign language during an exchange program, emphasizing the power of immersion and its ability to accelerate learning.
With our team aligned, we set out to create the assessment and develop an immersion schedule for Ali. Sure, we anticipated a slower start due to the tight schedule and Ali's learning curve. But we firmly believed that with focused learning and immersive experiences, Ali would gradually find his footing and make significant contributions to the project.
Lesson #1: Prioritize Personal Values over Skills:
As I reflected on this experience, one vital lesson stood out: when integrating new team members, prioritize personal values over skills alone. Skills can be taught, but values and attitudes are harder to change. In our case, Ali's personal values perfectly aligned with our team's values, making him an excellent fit.
Lesson #2: assessment for Knowledge and Cultural Fit:
Writing an assessment for new team members may seem unconventional, but it proved to be a powerful tool for both their learning and integration. By crafting questions that assessed not only technical knowledge but also cultural fit, we ensured that Ali understood our processes, shared our deeper values, and was on the same wavelength as the rest of the team.
Lesson #3: Embrace the Rollercoaster Ride:
Adding new team members can be challenging, but it's also an opportunity for growth and innovation. It shakes up the dynamics, pushes you out of your comfort zone, and forces you to adapt. Embrace the rollercoaster ride, for it is through these challenges that we discover our strengths, learn from one another, and achieve great heights as a team.
A word on the assessment
You might be wondering about this unconventional approach of administering an “assessment” to new team members. Allow me to shed some light on its purpose and benefits. This assessment serves as a lightweight and fun tool to gauge not only the technical knowledge but also the cultural fit of the new member. It helps us assess their understanding of our system's architecture, processes, and team culture.
Here are a few sample questions that we found particularly useful:
- What are the key components of our software architecture?
- Who owns the code?
- How do we approach code reviews and ensure code quality?
- Describe a situation where you had to collaborate closely with team members from different disciplines.
- How do we prioritize tasks and manage deadlines?
- Can you share an example of a time when you faced a conflict within a team and how you resolved it?
By asking these questions, we gained insights into Ali’s knowledge, problem-solving abilities, and alignment with our team's values. It also allowed us to identify areas where further guidance and learning were needed.
It's important to note that this approach might not suit every organization or team. An alternative could be conducting more informal discussions or arranging social events to assess cultural fit. The key is to find a method that aligns with your team's values and objectives, ensuring a smooth integration of new members while maintaining team cohesion.
But, what about Brook’s Law?
You may be wondering about Brooks' law.. In simple terms, it states that adding more people to a late software project only makes it later. This emphasizes the importance of carefully integrating new team members into established teams. By considering this principle and implementing thoughtful strategies, teams can swiftly adapt and regain their high-functioning state even when faced with the need to add manpower.
In the whirlwind of adding new team members, it's crucial to navigate the challenges with a strategic approach. Incorporating personal experiences, I shared how we tackled the integration of Ali into our project, highlighting the importance of shared values and the power of immersive learning. By adopting a two-step approach and incorporating a written assessment, we not only facilitated Ali's integration but also ensured his growth and contribution to the project.
So, the next time you find yourself on this rollercoaster ride, remember the lessons I've shared. Embrace the opportunity to add new team members, even if it initially feels like a disruption. Nurture their potential, provide the support they need, and watch as your team achieves new heights together.
And as the great Albert Einstein once said, "In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity."