Asking About Lean Experience on Teams

When Matthias Bohlen interviewed me for the OOP conference (see my post about the podcast for the OOP conference), he asked how to interview about lean experience. How do you ask potential team members about knowing their WIP limits or knowing how to help the team see its system?

Well, I’ve had a chance to think about this for a while and I have some ideas. Here are some behavior-description questions you might want to ask to determine if someone has had lean experience, or experience limiting work in progress:

  • “Tell me about a time you realized you were working on too many things at one time. How did you realize it?” (Pause and wait for the answer.) “Was there a board or some other visualization mechanism?” (Pause.) “Was it a solo effort or part of a team?” … “What did you do?”
  • “Have you worked on a team using kanban?” (Use a closed question to establish the experience.) “Tell me about a time you realized your team was having trouble staying inside your WIP (work in progress) limits.” Another question could be, “Looking back, did your WIP limits tell you anything about how the team worked?” (Pause.) “What was it? What did you/the team do about it?”
  • “Have you worked on a team using a story board for their iteration?” (Use a closed question. A story board is a mechanism to limit WIP, but teams don’t always use it that way.) “What happened when you used the board?” or “What did the board tell you about the way the team worked?”

Don’t use these questions as a script, but as a guide to a conversation.

If those questions are too high level, bring them down a notch or two by asking more specific questions such as, “How many stories were open at the same time and how many team members did you have?” If the candidate worked on a team of 5 and they had 5 stories open (or more!) chances are good they were not respecting WIP limits. But you don’t have to take my word for it, you can ask. That’s the value of behavior-description questions in an interview.

Matthias, thanks for making me think about lean teams, specifically!

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