August 27, 2014

How to survive a sprint if you’re a new recruit

Congratulations! You got that job you always wanted at a software development company.

As a new recruit, you’re keen to show them what a smart choice they made and start building some credibility within the team.

However, the glow of self-satisfaction on your face is quickly extinguished as you realise that now is the time for your baptism of fire. Your first sprint.

The team has already laid out the groundwork and drawn up the specifications before you joined, so you find yourself thrown headfirst into a whirlwind of activity that you need to weather successfully before proving to yourself and your colleagues that you’re in it for the long haul.

Put on a brave face, kiddo. Here are the challenges you’re likely to face

If this is the first time you’re taking part in a sprint then the challenges you’re likely to face are legion and seemingly insurmountable. There’s:

  • Jargon – You need to learn the Agile-speak that characterises the flavour of agile method favoured by the company and acquaint yourself with the different roles within the team and their corresponding responsibilities.


  • Meetings – Though brief, meetings within an agile setting tend to be frequent as different teams update one another about the progress being made and whether the burndown chart shows the project winding down in step with deadlines. All this information can be overwhelming and you walk away more confused than before.


  • Deadlines – Daily, weekly or monthly, an agile team has to meet several deadlines throughout a project which means that you rarely can afford to sit around and twiddle your thumbs. They have to see you do something, and that something better be useful!


  • Team loyalties – When you’re the new addition to a team it can be tough to carve a niche for yourself whilst also connecting with your colleagues. Steering your way safely through office politics and existing team loyalties can be an exhausting process, over and above all the work that you ought to be turning in on time.


  • Ambiguity – There are decisions to be taken and very often nothing to base them on except good ol’ common sense and your intuition. Since not all specifications can be put on paper right away, you’ll be taking decisions and then spending the rest of the time sitting tight hoping that you didn’t mess up big time.

Five qualities that will get you through your first sprint safely (sanity included)

It wasn’t as easy as you hoped for, was it? But fear not. Every sword has to be forged in fire before it hardens and is ready for battle.

Your first sprint is the furnace that will turn soft, squishy you into a lethal weapon that will slice through any future challenge.

Although you’ll have to brave through the confusion and chaos of the first sprint, the five steps below can help you make the best out of the experience and minimise the risk of messing up.

1.     Be patient – Not only with the people on your team but, most of all, with yourself. Mistakes are inevitable part of the learning experience and they show that at least you’re trying hard. There will be several obstacles in the way, some beyond your control. The best thing to do in these cases is to be patient and persevere until you get it right.

2.     Good organisation skills – Things tend to become pretty crazy in the middle of a sprint. Don’t add to the chaos through carelessness and poor organisation skills. Take copious amounts of notes and try to establish a solid routine early on.

3.     Use templates – Time management is another key skill to help you survive a sprint. With a deadline looming close and a seemingly endless list of things to do, it helps if you can make use of templates that speed up your work and ensure you work efficiently by sticking to the essentials.

4.     Ask questions – Experts aren’t born, they’re made. Asking questions is the fastest, most effective way to tap into years of knowledge from more experienced colleagues and make it yours in an instant. Don’t let pride get in the way, spit out that question and thank whoever gives you an answer. They’ll be as grateful for you asking them as much as you’ll be for their help.

5.     Be willing to adapt – Every company is different and so are the projects they embark on. Certain qualities have to be developed on the field and you need to be flexible enough to learn these practical lessons on the go. Be open to experimenting with different ways of doing things, and if one way doesn’t work treat that as a learning point like any other.


It’s possible to survive your first sprint and emerge even stronger than before.

Recognising the common problems that new recruits are likely to face and preparing yourself beforehand by developing the right qualities will enable you to become a valuable team member.

May your first sprint be a precious learning experience that provides a firm stepping stone for the rest of your career. Good luck!

Have you got any stories about your own first sprint? What did you do to survive it and what advice would you give to new recruits? Let us know in the comments below.

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