During the assessment week of an Agile coaching engagement, the goal is to learn about the current state of the team. Special attention is needed towards capturing:

  • Day-to-day activities of various roles
  • Additional activities such as on planning day, deployment day, etc
  • Tools used to support these activities
  • Processes around these activities
  • Interaction, collaboration, and dependency on other roles or teams during these activities
  • Infrastructure environments involved in these activities
  • Outcome of these activities in an iteration-level view
  • Challenges faced in performing any of these activities or the role in general

It is important to remain objective while making observations, and to not fall into the temptation of drawing conclusions or making recommendations. The latter is needed but should come towards the end of the assessment when holistic information is available.

One way to get visibility into the above aspects is conducting interviews of team members. We need not talk to everyone but only a representative sample from each role. This should be complemented with first-hand observation of how they work. Here is a suggestion of how you could go about this activity.

Interview preparation

Inform the Project Manager or equivalent a day or two in advance about the interviews you are planning to do. Learn about the various roles in the team, and ask the PM to inform team members to make time for the interview, which could last anywhere between 30 mins to an hour. It is usually a good idea to not conduct the interviews in a meeting room but at the desk of the individual. You should set up a time beforehand so that the interviewee is not distracted during the interview. Based on any insights already shared with you about the team's current context, make a list of areas you want to specifically ask about. Some of these will be role-specific, and some general.

Interview kickoff

Introduce or re-introduce yourself to the individual. Briefly let them know why you are there with the team. Explain what the interview is about and how it will help. The interviewee should not feel like this is a test which has right or wrong answers. Thank the person for agreeing to the interview. Try to keep the interaction balanced between formal and informal so that it seems important and yet the interviewee feels comfortable in opening up and being forthright. Keep a notebook handy, and inform the interviewee that you'll be scribbling notes during the interview, which you can share later after some clean-up if the interviewee is interested. It helps to reinforce transparency. First thing to note down is the person's name and role, along with the interview date.

Interview questions

Start simple by asking about the person's background in brief, typically around industry experience, how long with the current team, and role description. Follow this up by asking the person to describe their typical day. You can expect to get a lot of information out of this. Be ready to probe for details as and when required. Don't stick to going breadth-wise or depth-wise; switch how you elicit details based on how relevant you feel a topic is. You can even ask the individual to show-and-tell some aspects, perhaps by using a computer or walking up to a board. That said, remember to timebox. After a point too much detail is unnecessary at this stage. Try to cover all the aspects mentioned at the start of this post, not in that order but activity by activity. An important piece that you can end the interview with, is asking about the challenges faced on the project. You will get insights that you might not gain by first-hand observation. If you have done a few interviews already, use further interviews to validate some of the points mentioned by others to get different viewpoints on the same thing. That too can be quite revealing at times.

Interview documentation

Scribbling on a notepad may not feel like an overhead but cleaning up your notes to put in a Word document or a wiki page might seem tiresome. But you will thank yourself later for doing so. I am surprised how often I can't read my own handwriting just a few days later. Also, searching for something specific in a physical notepad is not as quick as one might imagine. Typing out the notes electronically is also an opportunity to structure the observations better. This is when you can collate information in a role-specific manner rather than as individual interviews. You may start to see patterns. These will feed into the later phases of assessment, ie, highlighting bottlenecks and challenges, and making recommendations.

Here is a sample document. And below are links on related skills:

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