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Sourcing and the Definition of Done

Last year I had the pleasure of taking a Certified Scrum Master course at Rally Software.  As a sourcing professional, I was a rather unusual addition among the software professionals who attended, so I looked for those Scrum principles that were universally applicable to my role as a talent sourcing and engagement strategist.

Throughout the course, I was struck by a recurring emphasis on what Agile software people refer to as the “Definition of Done,” especially because I’ve long felt that in many ways the sourcing community lacks a universal end or objective.  The Definition of Done (DoD) is defined by Scrum Alliance as “a comprehensive checklist of necessary, value-added activities” that are requisite to the progress of a software development project.  In an effort to make Scrum processes and terminologies relevant to my sourcing process, I began thinking about what sourcers would consider their Definition of Done – those non-negotiable, value-added activities that are critical to the success of any day-in-the-life of a sourcing professional and to the overall recruiting lifecycle.

Source: billyjohnson.wordpress.com

My conclusion:  talent sourcing is a pretty nebulous and nuanced activity for most organizations, the singular end of which is hard to define.  At the very least, it’s defined differently by different organizations.

Is the ultimate objective of sourcing to generate hires, or is it to provide qualified options to the recruiters and hiring managers you support?  Is it the mere transaction of online search and resume delivery?  Does it involve a deeper level of expertise, agility, curiosity, tech-savvy, multi-facetedness, and maybe even open-endedness?  Are there clearly defined objectives to sourcing that we can call “done?”

I think any sourcing professional worth his or her salt would argue that sourcing is more than a series of simple transactions, more than specialized expertise in Boolean search-term engineering, more than trolling for low-hanging fruit on resume databases, more than advanced engagement in the Twitosphere, more than InMail buckshot.

In this respect, too, I found that the rules of Scrum applied:  “DoD is not static.”  The sourcer’s “done” is diverse, fluid, ever-changing, subject to technological advancements, shifting organizational priorities, moving-target job descriptions, and indecisive hiring managers.  It involves the skillful and synchronous execution of many best practices across many platforms, including social media, deep-web/Boolean, powerful multi-platform sourcing tools like Scavado, job boards, online and offline research and networking, employment of mobile campaigns and strategies, and an innate curiosity that drives a sourcer to leave no stone unturned and constantly strive for innovation.

Scrum principles also contend that the DoD is the primary reporting mechanism for team members and should serve as an auditable checklist.  Reporting on metrics is almost invariably a pain-point for most sourcing teams – it certainly has been for the teams on which I’ve worked.  But if we can agree that the ultimate objective of sourcing is not simply to tweet or to run a Google search, why do some organizations insist on tracking activities at such a granular level?  Why do we measure inputs instead of outputs?

I’ve always held that the primary objective, the Definition of Done, of sourcing is to provide highly qualified options (whether cold resumes or warm contacts) to a recruiter or hiring manager.  Since we typically can’t further impact or control the hiring process, shouldn’t the delivery of highly qualified options be the only metric we’re concerned with monitoring?  Let the sourcer flex his or her creative muscle and employ the tools and best practices that most effectively and efficiently achieve that deliverable.  The platforms, search terms or methods used are secondary by far to the ability to deliver quality options.

Note:  I’m not understating the importance of source tracking, which I’m assuming – perhaps optimistically – will be captured in an Applicant Tracking System.  I’m also not understating the importance of hires, but am contending that hires are a function of recruiting, are subject to innumerable variables beyond the sourcer’s control, and should not be the criteria against which you are judged. 

Finally, the Definition of Done must be informed by reality.  I take great issue with the organization who thinks sourcing ought to be prescriptive – that recruiters or hiring managers can expect the same degree of throughput for any job.  One of my biggest pet peeves is the manager who superimposes an arbitrary number as his/her baseline expectation for sourcing (“how hard is it to find 15 qualified resumes?”).  Sometimes finding 15 qualified resumes is extraordinarily difficult and time-consuming; sometimes it’s admittedly simple.

You should always check your processes and the organizational expectations projected upon sourcing to make sure they reflect reality.  All too often I see sourcers delivering against completely unrealistic expectations simply because they wouldn’t speak up for themselves (or their managers wouldn’t speak up for them).  A certain degree of level-setting is usually necessary throughout a sourcing engagement to ensure the Definition of Done is in fact achievable.

Net-net:  sourcing can be an easy scapegoat for recruiting failures.  The responsible sourcer will keep recruiters and managers grounded with realistic expectations and clearly articulated, measurable Definitions of Done that deliver highly qualified talent options. Those expectations must also provide some latitude for sourcers to act as subject-matter experts to find the best research methods possible.

Sourcing is not prescriptive, and it’s not static or singularly focused in any one platform or methodology.  It is a multi-dimensional discipline that requires a great deal of curiosity, creativity, adaptability, and a little bit of luck.

About Josh Anderson

Josh is a Colorado native who transitioned from a life of hunting bad guys in Marine Corps intelligence to a life of finding good guys as a talent sourcer (both equally elusive). He's the Consulting Services Manager at Scavado and is passionate about social technology, the outdoors, good books, strong coffee, and smooth bourbon.