Scrum Master Hiring: Demand Creates Supply and the Job Market for Agile Practitioners is No Exception
Maybe, “Agile” in general is a management fad and not trend at the moment. But what we can say for sure is that Scrum has become very popular for software development purposes. A seasoned Scrum master is nowadays in high demand. And that demand causes the market-entry of new professionals from other project management branches, probably believing that reading one or two Scrum books will be sufficient.
If you are looking to fill a position for a Scrum master (or agile coach) in your organization, you may find the following 38+9 interview questions useful to identify the right candidate. They are derived from my ten years of practical experience with XP as well as Scrum, serving both as Product owner and Scrum master as well as interviewing dozens of Scrum master candidates on behalf of my clients.
38+9 Scrum Master Interview Questions
Scrum is not a methodology, but a framework. There are no rules that apply to every scenario, just best practices that have worked in other organizations before. Hence, you have to figure out on your own what is working for your organization–which is a process, not a destination.
The role of the Scrum master or agile coach in my understanding is hence primarily about leadership and coaching, but not about management. And most definitely, the Scrum Master role is not about process enforcement. Which is also the reason, that the repository contains mostly questions that address a candidate's soft skills. ‘Agile needs to be pulled; it cannot be pushed. (Unless your organization is planning to waste significant investments on some version of cargo cult agile, see also ‘Cargo Cult Agile: The ‘State of Agile’ Checklist for Your Organization.’)
The Scrum master interview questions in this PDF are modeled after a holistic model of agile product development for software products:
In this model, product discovery is moved as far as possible to the left to keep costs of validating hypotheses — derived from a vision and strategy — low and increase the speed of experimentation. In this approach it is crucial that the Scrum master coaches the scrum team to adopt such a holistic model, some call it dual-track agile, as well.
Therefore, the PDF contains additional background and contextual information, how the following set of questions can be interpreted as well as guidance on desired or acceptable ranges of answers for each question — based on such a holistic model. The questions themselves are grouped into seven categories.
Download the 38+9 Scrum Master Interview Questions PDF
The free 38 Scrum Master Interview Questions to Avoid Agile Imposters PDF is not merely listing the questions, but also contains background information on:
- Why the questions are useful in the process.
- A range of appropriate answers.
Two to three questions from each category will provide more than enough ground for an engaging 60 min conversation.
Update 2018-3-17: Edition 4.0 Is Now Available: Revised with Additional Three Questions
The 2018 edition of “38+9 Scrum Master Interview Questions” is out now. It was revised, plus we added another three questions on scrum anti-patterns as humans — including scrum masters — are fallible.
Please note: It would have been easy to add more than three questions from the “Scrum Anti-Patterns Guide” to this fourth edition of the scrum master interview questions guide. However, talking about scrum anti-patterns during an interview is one thing. Observing them during a trail day, for example, is something different. The more questions on scrum anti-patterns are listed in the interview guide the more likely they will serve as a checklist for a candidates qualification. That is not the intended purpose.
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Update 2017-3-21: Edition 3.0 Is Now Available: Revised with Additional Six Questions
The 2017 edition of the scrum master interview questions is now available. It was completely revised, plus we added another six questions on agile metrics, and on how to kick-off a transition to scrum.
If you are a subscriber to the newsletter, you do not have to do anything: I will email the new version to you.
Update 2016-3-18: Edition 2.0 Is Now Available With Guidance on Suitable Answers
Given the discussions on LinkedIn, we — that's Andreea Tomoiaga and I — thought it might be helpful to provide some guidance on the range of suitable answers as well. These should allow an interviewer to deep dive into a candidate’s understanding of Scrum and her agile mindset. However, please note that:
- The answers reflect the personal experience of the authors and may not be valid for every organization: what works for organization A, may be failing in organization B
- There are not suitable multiple choice questions to identify a candidate’s agile mindset given the complexity of applying “agile” to any organization
- The authors share a holistic view of agile methodologies: agile equals product discovery (what to build) plus product delivery (how to build it).
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I. The Role Of The Scrum Master
- The Agile Manifesto says "People over processes." Isn't the Scrum master – a role to enforce "the process" – therefore a contradiction?
- What are good indicators that "Agile" is working in your organization, that your work is successful?
- Are there typical metrics that you would track? And if so, which metrics would you track and for what purpose?
- Your team's performance is constantly not meeting commitments, and its velocity is very volatile. What are possible reasons for that? And how would you address those issues?
- Shall the Scrum team become involved in the product discovery process as well, and if so, how?
- The Product owner role is a bottleneck by design. How can you support the Product owner so that she can be the value maximizer?
- How do you ensure that the Scrum team has access to the stakeholders?
- How do you spread an agile mindset in the company across different departments and what is your strategy to coach these non-IT stakeholders?
- How do you introduce Scrum to senior executives?
- You already performed Scrum training to stakeholders. After an initial phase of trying to apply the concepts, when first obstacles/hurdles are encountered, you see that these colleagues build serious resistance in continuing with Scrum adoption. What are your strategy/experience to handle such situations?
II. Product Backlog Refinement And Estimation
- The Product owner of your team normally turns stakeholder requirement documents into tickets and asks to estimate them. Are you fine with that procedure?
- What kind of information would you require from the Product owner to provide the team with an update on the product and market situation?
- Who shall be writing user stories?
- How shall a good user story look? What is it's structure?
- What should a "Definition of Ready" comprise of?
- Why aren't user stories usually simply estimated in man-hours?
- The Product owner of your Scrum team tends to add ideas of all kind to the backlog to continue working on them at a later stage. Over time, this has lead to over 200 tickets in various stages. What is your take on that: Can the Scrum team work on 200 tickets?
III. Sprint Planning
- How can you as a Scrum Master contribute to the sprint planning in a way that the team is working on the most valuable user stories?
- On what metrics would you base the assessment of the value of a user story and what metrics would be not acceptable?
- How do you facilitate the user story picking progress in a way that the most valuable stories are chosen without overruling the team's prerogative to define the team's commitment?
- How much capacity would consider being adequate for refactoring, fixing important bugs, exploring new technologies or ideas?
- How do you deal with a Product owner that assigns user stories or tasks to individual team members?
- How do you deal with cherry picking tasks by team members?
- A user story is lacking the final designs, but the design department promises to deliver on day #2 of the upcoming sprint. The product owner of your Scrum team is fine with that and pushed to have the user story in the sprint backlog. What is your take?
- A member of the Scrum team does not want to participate in the sprint planning meetings but considers them a waste of time. How do you deal with that attitude?
- Would you recommend standups for all teams no matter their size or experience level?
- Do you expect experienced team members to wait until the next standup to ask for help with an impediment?
- How do you handle team members that "lead" standups, turning them into a reporting session for them?
- How do you handle team members that consider standups to be a waste of time and therefore are either late, uncooperative or do not attend at all?
- The standups of your Scrum team are not attended by any stakeholder. How do you change that?
- How do you approach standups with distributed teams?
- Can you draw a draft of an offline Kanban board for a Scrum team right now?
- Who shall participate in the retrospective?
- Do you check the team health in a retrospective or isn't that necessary? If so, how would you do it?
- What retrospective formats have you been using in the past?
- How can you prevent boredom at retrospectives?
- A team is always picking reasonable action items, but is later not delivering on them. How do you handle this habit?
- How do you recommend to follow up on actions items?
VI. Agile Metrics
- Are there any standard metrics that you would track? If so, which metrics would you track and for what purpose?
- Your Scrum team is consistently failing to meet commitments, and its velocity is volatile. What might the possible reasons be? How would you address this issue with the team?
- What qualitative agile metrics would you consider tracking?
VII. How to Kick-Off A Transition to Scrum
- How would you prepare to kick-off transitioning to Scrum?
- How would you create the first Scrum team?
- What do you recommend a newly formed Scrum team works on first?
VIII. Scrum Anti-Patterns
- What anti-patterns might a scrum master fall into during a sprint?
- What anti-patterns do you know of that can happen during a retrospective?
- How can you (as a scrum master) identify where you need to improve?
How To Use The Scrum Master Interview Questions
Scrum has always been a hands-on business, and to be successful in this, a candidate needs to have a passion for getting her hands dirty. While the basic rules are trivial, getting a group of individuals with different backgrounds, levels of engagement and personal agendas to form and perform as a team, is a complex task. (As always you might say when humans and communication are involved.) And the larger the organization is, the more management level there are, the more likely failure is lurking around the corner.
The questions are not necessarily suited to turn an inexperienced interviewer into an agile expert. But in the hands of a seasoned practitioner, they support figuring out, what candidate has been working the agile trenches in the past and who’s more likely to be an imposter.
So, go for a pragmatic veteran who has experienced failure in other projects before and the scars to prove it. Last, but not least: Being a “Certified Scrum Master” – or having any other certification of a similar nature – does not guarantee success.