Free Ebook: 38+9 Scrum Master Interview Questions to Avoid Hiring Agile Imposters

Scrum Master Interview: Demand Creates Supply and the Job Market for Agile Practitioners is No Exception

Scrum has proven time and again to be the most popular framework for software development. Given that software is eating the world, 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. Which makes any Scrum Master interview a challenging task.

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 thirteen 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.

So far, this Scrum Master interview guide has been downloaded more than 15,000 times.

38+9 Scrum Master Interview Questions to Avoid Hiring Agile Imposters

Update 2019-10-12: Have You Already Downloaded Your Copy of the Scrum Master Trends Report?

Have you already dwnloaded your copy of the Scrum Master Trends Report 2019 that we produced in collaboration with Scrum.org, the leading Scrum training and certification institution founded by Scrum co-founder Ken Schwaber?

The Scrum Master Trends Report 2019 is based on a survey of over 2100 participants—both from Scrum.org’s as well as Age-of-Product’s member and subscriber base. The report focuses on trends useful to both new and experienced Scrum Masters and reveals salary trends, agile adoption patterns, while also exploring gender equality within the Scrum Master role. The participants represent 87 different countries and come from all levels of experience. The highlights from the 2019 report include:

  • 81% are using Scrum with other agile practices, ie. Kanban, DevOps, XP.
  • Scrum Masters with formal Scrum training and agile certifications have higher salaries than those without.
  • Adoption trends show that 7% are continuing to use Waterfall while 11% are mature in their agile adoption; the remaining participants are early or growing their adoption.
  • Female salaries are trending higher those of their male counterparts.

Learn more: The Scrum Master Trends Report 2019.

Download the 38+9 Scrum Master Interview Questions PDF

The free 38+9 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 minute-long conversation with candidates.


The Scrum Master According to the Scrum Guide

While the Scrum Guide is sometimes detailing issues to a lesser degree, the Scrum Master role does receive appropriate attention:

The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. Scrum Masters do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values.

The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team. The Scrum Master helps those outside the Scrum Team understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren’t. The Scrum Master helps everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team.

Source: Scrum Guide 2017.

The Scrum Guide continues defining a Scrum Master’s services to the Product Owner, the Development Team, and the organization, which guided the creation of the following set the Scrum Master interview questions.

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:

Scrum Master Interview Questions — A holistic Perspective on Agile Product Development

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.

Upcoming Scrum and Liberating Stuctures training classes and workshops — Berlin Product People GmbH

Scrum Master Interview Questions: How We Organized Questions and Answers

The ebook provides both questions as well as guidance on the range of suitable answers. 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).

Please find following 38+9 Scrum Master interview questions to avoid recruiting an imposter for the role of Scrum Master or agile coach:

I. The Role Of The Scrum Master

  1. The Agile Manifesto says "People over processes." Isn't the Scrum Master – a role to enforce "the process" – therefore a contradiction?
  2. What are good indicators that "Agile" is working in your organization, that your work is successful?
  3. Are there typical metrics that you would track? And if so, which metrics would you track and for what purpose?
  4. Your team's performance is constantly not meeting commitments, and its velocity is very volatile. What are the possible reasons for that? And how would you address those issues?
  5. Shall the Scrum team become involved in the product discovery process as well, and if so, how?
  6. The Product owner role is a bottleneck by design. How can you support the Product owner so that she can be the value maximizer?
  7. How do you ensure that the Scrum team has access to the stakeholders?
  8. How do you spread an agile mindset in the company across different departments and what is your strategy to coach these non-IT stakeholders?
  9. How do you introduce Scrum to senior executives?
  10. 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

  1. The Product owner of your team normally turns stakeholder requirement documents into tickets and asks to estimate them. Are you fine with that procedure?
  2. What kind of information would you require from the Product Owner to provide the team with an update on the product and market situation?
  3. Who shall be writing user stories?
  4. How shall a good user story look? What is its structure?
  5. What should a "Definition of Ready" comprise of?
  6. Why aren't user stories usually simply estimated in man-hours?
  7. 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 teamwork on 200 tickets?

III. Sprint Planning

  1. 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?
  2. On what metrics would you base the assessment of the value of a user story and what metrics would be not acceptable?
  3. 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?
  4. How much capacity would consider being adequate for refactoring, fixing important bugs, exploring new technologies or ideas?
  5. How do you deal with a Product owner that assigns user stories or tasks to individual team members?
  6. How do you deal with cherry-picking tasks by team members?
  7. 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?
  8. 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?

IV. Daily Scrum

  1. Would you recommend standups for all teams no matter their size or experience level?
  2. Do you expect experienced team members to wait until the next standup to ask for help with an impediment?
  3. How do you handle team members that "lead" standups, turning them into a reporting session for them?
  4. 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?
  5. The standups of your Scrum team are not attended by any stakeholder. How do you change that?
  6. How do you approach standups with distributed teams?
  7. Can you draw a draft of an offline Kanban board for a Scrum team right now?

V. Sprint Retrospectives

  1. Who shall participate in the retrospective?
  2. Do you check the team health in a retrospective or isn't that necessary? If so, how would you do it?
  3. What retrospective formats have you been using in the past?
  4. How can you prevent boredom at retrospectives?
  5. A team is always picking reasonable action items, but is later not delivering on them. How do you handle this habit?
  6. How do you recommend to follow up on actions items?

VI. Agile Metrics

  1. Are there any standard metrics that you would track? If so, which metrics would you track and for what purpose?
  2. 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?
  3. What qualitative agile metrics would you consider tracking?

VII. How to Kick-Off A Transition to Scrum

  1. How would you prepare to kick-off transitioning to Scrum?
  2. How would you create the first Scrum team?
  3. What do you recommend a newly formed Scrum team works on first?

VIII. Scrum Anti-Patterns

  1. What anti-patterns might a Scrum Master fall into during a sprint?
  2. What anti-patterns do you know of that can happen during a retrospective?
  3. 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.

Get the PDF!

Recommended Reading

Regarding the general preparation for the Scrum Master job interview, I recommend the following literature on Scrum, Scrum Master, and team building:

Update 2019-03-27: Watch the Webinar on the Scrum Master Trends Report 2019

Recently, I joined a webinar with Dave West—the CEO and Product Owner of Scrum.org—on the Scrum Master Trends Report 2019. We explored the results including salary trends and agile adoption patterns, addressed gender equality within the Scrum Master role, and answered questions from the audience. The video of the webinar is available now:


Scrum Master Trends Survey Results

Note: If the browser will not start the video automatically, click here to watch the replay of the webinar on the Scrum Master Trends Report 2019 directly on Youtube.

Update 2018-11-25: The Webinar Replay ‘Scrum Master Anti-Patterns’ Is now Available

The video of the webinar is available now—you may want to check it prior to your interviews:


Scrum Master Anti-Patterns — (Hands-on Agile Webinar #8)

Note: If the browser will not start the video automatically, click here to watch the replay of the webinar Scrum Master anti-patterns directly on Youtube.

Related Posts

The Scrum Master Trends Report 2019

The Scrum Guide Reordered — understand the Scrum Guide’ patterns and concepts quickly to avoid hiring imposters

Scrum Master Anti-Patterns — 20 Signs Your Scrum Master Needs Help

34 thoughts on “Free Ebook: 38+9 Scrum Master Interview Questions to Avoid Hiring Agile Imposters”

  1. Darrell, I think it is unlikely that you will be hired as a scrum master or agile coach right away. Try and become a member of a product development team in whatever capacity first to learn more about how all of this works.

  2. Great information, but yes, how does someone break into Agile and become a Scrum Master? I immediately received a CSM, and now studying for PSM. Yes, means nothing as I come from an apparel manufacturing background. I love the Agile process and the people it creates. How do I get that first Scrum Master job to build experience?

  3. Hi Stefan,

    Thanks for this useful book. I’ve noticed one controversial issue.

    “A ‘definition of ready’ (also known as a ‘definition of done’) is an agreement between the scrum team and the product owner about what must be included in a user story
    (before the story can be considered ready for estimation). It defines what a good user story looks like.”

    But ‘definition of ready’ and ‘definition of done’ it is absolutely different things.

    Mayby, you meant another. Could you explain, please?

  4. Hi Arian, I get the point. Let me briefly sketch the background of the document. It resulted from a Scrum Master recruiting effort for one of my clients. Here, the team in question was involved in the interviews, however, at a level that required to split questions among interviewers.

    The questions were primarily used to filter those candidates that had no previous experience with Scrum except for a certification, and – say – ten years of PMO practice. (Who, nevertheless, believed that they would be able to master agile software development with Scrum.) Those turned out to be a waste of time as they had the wrong mindset. And junior Scrum Masters, of course, we all need to start somewhere, were not suited for the position due to the complicated stakeholder situation.

    Hence “imposter” is applied to the first, not the latter category.

    By the way, the recruiting process I prefer, which was modeled after that experienced, is described here in detail: https://age-of-product.com/peer-recruiting/

  5. Hi Stefan

    While its great what you have done, I have a question for you. How do you propose then to get new blood, new Scrum Masters? Assuming that a person have not worked on IT before but would like to move into that direction. After all scrum is not a framework that is specifically made for IT, but it seem that its been embraced widely by the software companies and we all know why. We all know that technical minds are not the best in leading in general.

  6. My apology Armando that it took so long!

    I came across that same question last week — I am currently working on the third edition of the Scrum Master interview questions — and couldn’t make sense of it either. So, the new version will be as follows:

    Answers to Question 18:
    It is the prerogative of the Product Owner to define the scope of an upcoming sprint by identifying and prioritizing the most valuable user stories in the product backlog. The best way for the Scrum Master to ensure that the Scrum team is working on the most valuable user stories is as follows:

    ● The Scrum team is involved in the product discovery process at an early stage.
    ● The product backlog refinement process is well understood by both the Scrum team and the Product Owner. (This should be supported, for example, by the creation of a “Definition of Ready” standard for user stories.)
    ● All user stories are created in a collaborative effort between the Product Owner and the Scrum team. (A shared understanding of the user stories and thus joint ownership is the goal.)

    The candidate should note that while the Product Owner is defining the scope of the sprint (and the sprint goal), it is the Scrum team prerogative to address technical debt and bugs at the same time. (The team can allocate up to 25 percent of available capacity for that purpose.)”

    I hope that this will be helpful.

  7. Hello Can some one help in the understanding of this answere: “The scrum team should never select user stories according to any kind of ranking
    established by the product owner or anyone else” (Answers to Question 18)

    Thanks!

  8. Hi Stefan,

    My name is Ali Mohammed and I am an IT Recruiter. I had submitted one of the resumes for the position of Scrum Master. The resume had been shortlisted and the manager asked for an interview.

    I shared your PDF with him and we discussed a lot on this.
    He’s been selected and the client raised the offer against him.

    It was really helpful to me.

    Thanks a lot!
    You are great!

    Ali

  9. Please read the whole text: “Imposter” refers to project managers, who believe that reading a Scrum book, or attending a 2-day class qualifies them as a Scrum master.

  10. “figuring out, what candidate has actually been working the agile trenches in the past and who’s more likely to be an imposter.”

    Inexperience does not an imposter make.

    “So, go for a pragmatic veteran who has experienced failure in other projects before and the scars to prove it.”

    And how is one supposed to become a veteran, then?

  11. Stefan,
    May I request the pdf with answers to above questions over email?
    Nice list of questions btw.
    Thanks in advance.

  12. Hey there, do you have an ETA on the new pdf with answers? 😀 Nice questions btw

  13. Thank you for your work and help the community with your contribution.

    I think that this document can be useful for many people helping to be more rigorous in their hiring processes, but I noticed that in the document, when mention “Scrum Team” is meaning “Development Team”, because “Scrum Team” consists of a Product Owner, The development Team and a Scrum Master.

    Best regards,
    Carlos.

  14. Help is on the way: A new version of the PDF is being finished right now. You will receive an email with it attached, once it will be available…

  15. Hi Stefan,

    We would love to use this Article on our new AgileCareers Blog (coming soon)! AgileCareers is run by Scrum Alliance. Would that be okay? Let us know!

    Thanks!

  16. It would be interesting to see what you would consider appropriate/acceptable answers to each of these questions.

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