What are some big red flags when hiring an agile consultant?
For me there are a few red flags to look out for.
- Not engaging in the agile community.
- A lack of knowledge around the core concepts.
- A consultancy that focuses on output and revenue rather than quality and expertise.
These are the reasons I think these are red flags and should act as prompts for you to investigate a bit deeper before making a call on whether to hire them or not.
Not engaging in the agile community
You want to work with people who are a part of a group, a community, a cause, or an effort where people share their ideas, concepts, and experiences.
The reason this matter is because you don’t want people who operate in echo chambers. Places where their ideas are never challenged and where they aren’t exposed to different lines of reasoning or different case studies and experiences.
You want them to be an active member of a professional melting pot where they learn from others, grow through the exposure to other lines of reasoning, and develop their critical analysis capabilities by challenging others or asking for coaching and mentoring from senior members of the community.
In my experience, there are few things better than having professionals in your community challenge your argument and allow you to develop a deeper understanding of why you think what you do, how that can improve, and in some cases, why that line of reasoning is valid.
If the only tool you have in your toolbox is a hammer, you tend to look at every problem as a nail.
That is what we are actively trying to avoid. Someone who is trapped in the past and believes that a specific best practice exists for every application and context. We live in a complex world and as such, we need to develop practices that fit with the environment we serve rather than try to run out the same old experiment, time and again, regardless of whether it is the right approach or not.
A lack of understanding or knowledge of the core concepts.
In our industry, we sometimes have people who have practiced as a scrum master for a couple of years deciding to present themselves as an agile coach or agile consultant without the necessary skills development and appropriate knowledge to do so.
You want people who can talk knowledgeably about the core concepts of Agile. Things like:
- Empiricism or Empirical Process Control
- Lean UX Product Development
And so forth.
They need to be able to articulate the core concepts of agile, in the context of the person they are serving, in a way that allows people to grasp the fundamentals and embrace the path to agility.
If they don’t have this core knowledge, they lack credibility. If they don’t know how Agile came to be and what the primary drivers of progress have been, they don’t have enough knowledge or expertise to help you in your unique, complex situation.
You want someone who learns from the community but also actively studies literature from thought leaders in the history, has attended courses and certification programmes that validate their knowledge of agile and why the theory that underpins agile is proven and reliable.
You want someone that has worked in complex environments, preferably as both a practitioner and a coach, and has a proven track record of helping teams achieve their goals and objectives, regardless of the industry or constraints that team work within.
You often find that the people who simply regurgitate what the scrum guide says, or are sticklers for following agile dogma, are the people you least want to be working with. That isn’t agility, that is the antithesis of agility.
You want someone who is attempting to help you achieve the outcomes you want and need, through whatever best works for the team. Sure the scrum guide says X, but it does so with the purpose of trying to achieve Y. If you have a better way of doing that, great, let’s explore that option and test whether our hypothesis is valid or not.
A consultancy that focuses on output rather than quality and expertise.
A great agile consultancy is one that focuses on recruiting the top talent in the industry. People who are incredibly knowledgeable, deeply experienced, and have a proven track record of delivering great outcomes for clients.
A red flag is a consultancy that is focused on volume.
They don’t acquire the best talent nor do they nurture that talent to become even better at their job. They focus instead on ensuring that they have the volume of workers to address the volume of work they have contracted.
The latter consultancy gets into a vicious cycle because as they contract more work, they need more people to perform the work, and so they aren’t hiring experts, they are hiring who is available.
This pattern repeats with each cycle and each time they hire, the barrier to entry lowers and the calibre of consultant that you are hiring drops with the volume dependency. Because the consultancy now has so many consultants, they need to be even more aggressive in acquiring clients to feed those overheads and the spiral continues downward until something breaks.
A great agile consultancy limits their work in progress and is highly selective about the clients they bring onboard because their focus is on delivering great work, achieving objectives and goals for clients, and developing a strong reputation for competence and capability development.
So, for me, these would be the 3 red flags to watch out for when hiring an agile consultant.
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