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Monday, June 23, 2014

Kicking the tires before you get hired...

Posted this on LinkedIn as it's not particularly product management-oriented. Decided it might still be interesting to some folks here.

I have a friend who is considering accepting a development leadership position in a software company with a hundred or so developers scattered over a few continents. We were chatting about rumors and other tidbits of information each of us had heard about his potential employer and started brainstorming on questions he should ask as the interview process proceeded with members of the senior leadership team and his potential directs. To put it bluntly, he was keen to know whether the development organization was a “fixer upper” or a lost cause.

Having been thinking quite a bit lately about performing audits (or as I prefer to call them “assessments”) of software product management (SPM) organizations, I suggested to my friend that he offer to do a mini-assessment of development practices at this company before he commits to joining. The idea is to spend a day or two on the ground with the development teams to get insight into their effectiveness, morale and key issues. It was at that point in the conversation that I realized how often we commit to a new job based on fairly limited information and, sometimes, no direct insight into challenges our future colleagues are facing day-to-day.

I feel like I may have stumbled onto a good practice, one that I’m surprised isn’t more mainstream, particularly in leadership positions. Once you get through the interviews with HR, your prospective management and peers, why not spend some quality time in the trenches understanding how things are really going from the people actually doing the work? Even the most well-intentioned hiring managers have a skewed and sometimes disconnected view of what’s happening day-to-day in their organizations. A company that is skittish about letting you spend some time with folks with whom you might work as they go about their daily routine should give you reason to think deeply about the motivation for their reluctance. From a potential employee’s perspective, a day or two of your time seeing your future co-workers “in the wild” seems like a sensible investment.

There could be IP issues of course, but an NDA should address most concerns. Regardless, I think this type of “mini-audit” would typically only be undertaken by candidates who had passed a couple of rounds of interviews and had probably been exposed to quite a bit of sensitive information. As an added benefit to the employer, the job candidate could share their findings with management even if they don’t accept the job, giving leadership insight from someone they thought of highly enough to seriously consider making an offer. BTW, if you’re not aware of, it can be a great resource for discovering information about prospective employers from folks that have worked for them.

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