TL; DR: Scrum Master Interview Guide 2023: The Scrum Master Role
If you want to fill a Scrum Master position in your organization, you may find the following interview questions helpful in identifying the right candidate. They are derived from my seventeen 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. This revised set of questions addresses the Scrum Master role.
Given the remarkable results, ChatGPT recently scored in my fictitious interview for a Scrum Master position; I added extra scrutiny to the nature of the questions. While I find ChatGPT a fascinating technology, I want it to fail in this interview challenge.
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Download all 73 Scrum Master Interview Questions
The free 73 Scrum Master Interview Questions PDF is not merely listing the questions. I 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.
Scrum Master Interview Questions: How We Organized Questions and Answers
The ebook provides questions and guidance on the range of suitable answers. These should allow an interviewer to dive deep into a candidate’s understanding of Scrum and their agile mindset. However, please note that:
- The answers reflect the personal experience of the author and may not be valid for every organization: what works for organization A is likely failing in organization B.
- There are no relevant multiple choice questions to identify a candidate’s agile mindset given the complexity of applying “agile” to any organization.
- The author has a holistic view of agile practices: agile equals product discovery (what to build) plus product delivery (how to build it) as a collaborative exercise of the whole Scrum team.
Please find following the revised set of Scrum Master interview questions on the role of a Scrum Master or agile coach, from a principal understanding of the nature of the role to supporting other team members, such as the Product Owner, to liaising with stakeholders.
- We do not get paid to practice Scrum according to the letters of the Scrum Guide. We are getting paid to solve customer problems within the given constraints while contributing to generating a sustainable business on the organization’s side.
- Scrum is not the one-size-fits-all approach to creating valuable products and services. There are many alternative practices organizations, and product teams can choose instead of Scrum.
- Scrum is not well-suited for the simple or chaotic domain. Moreover, consider wisely before choosing Scrum for an endeavor located in a complicated domain.
- Scrum thrives when applied to solve complex, adaptive problems.
- No matter how diverse the stakeholders of your Scrum team are, they are all united in one expectation: Your Scrum team delivers—with the precision of a Swiss clockwork—a Done, potentially releasable, valuable Increment every single Sprint. While that delivery focus is engrained in Scrum’s DNA, it is insufficient to become successful. A great Scrum team pays equal attention to figuring out what is worth building in the first place, referred to as product discovery.
- Scrum is a team sport. The team wins, the loses; there is middle-ground.
Section I. Scrum Master Interview Questions: The Role Of The Scrum Master
This set of Scrum Master interview questions focuses on the role of the Scrum Master:
Question 01: The Scrum Master Role as a Contradiction?
The Agile Manifesto infers people over processes. Isn’t a Scrum Master — whose role is meant to “enforce” the process — therefore a contradiction?
Scrum Masters do not wield any absolute authority but act as servant leaders. The Scrum Team does not report to them. This question is meant to help reveal whether your candidate understands that their role is to lead — as opposed to managing — the team. Asking this question is also likely to show why your candidate is interested in the role of a Scrum Master in the first place.
Acceptable answers should emphasize facilitation and support, for example:
- “I am the servant-leader for the Scrum Team. It’s my job to make them successful.”
- “I am neither a project manager nor a people manager. I support the Scrum Team in achieving self-management. I do not tell people what, when, or how to do things.”
- “I am the Scrum Team’s facilitator as teacher, coach, or mentor, encouraging them to excel as a team.”
Question 02: Success Factors of “Agile”
What indicators demonstrate agile practices are working for your organization, and which of these show your efforts are succeeding?
No one can use a standard or general definition of ‘Scrum success’ to measure an organization’s agility. Every organization must develop its own criteria. For example, increasing team velocity is usually not considered a meaningful indicator.
However, although primarily indirect, various indicators may be useful in determining success:
- Products delivered to customers result in higher retention rates, better conversion rates, increased customer lifetime value, and similar improvements to the business. (A successful Scrum Team provides a good return on investment to the business.)
- The improved organizational agility allows for pursuing market opportunities successfully, which previously would have been considered futile.
- There has been a reduced allocation of time, money, and brain to low-value products.
- Lead time has been reduced from validated idea to shipped product.
- The cycle time for hypotheses validations has been reduced, speeding up the product discovery process.
- Improved team happiness is exhibited by reduced churn and an increase in the number of referrals from team members.
- Increased competitiveness in the war for talent can be demonstrated by an increase in the number of experienced people willing to join the organization.
- Increased software quality can be demonstrated by measurably less technical debt, fewer bugs, and less time spent on maintenance.
- There is greater respect among stakeholders for the Scrum teams.
- Stakeholders are increasingly participating in events, for example, during the Sprint Review.
Question 03: Impediment Remover
Should a Scrum Master remove impediments on behalf of the Scrum team?
A Scrum Master should not be concerned with removing problems that the Scrum Team can solve themselves, no matter how often this requirement is mentioned in job advertisements. If a Scrum Master acts like a ‘Scrum helicopter parent,’ their team will never become self-organizing.
A Scrum Team must learn to make its own decisions. This necessity almost inevitably results in failures, dead-ends, and other unplanned excursions when the team is learning something new. Consequently, in the beginning, a team will need more guidance than usual from the Scrum Master — and of a different kind than exemplified by drawing offline boards or updating tickets in JIRA. Such guidance should not, however, become an exercise in protective parenting — a team must be allowed to learn from their failures.
That being said, there is one area where the Scrum Master is indeed removing problems on behalf of the team: When the Scrum Team cannot solve the problem by themselves, for example, because the issue is an organizational problem. Now we are talking about “impediments.” Only in this situation the Scrum Master becomes the impediment remover of the Scrum Team.
Question 04: Communication between Scrum Master and Product Owner
How should a Scrum Master communicate with a Product Owner?
Communicating honestly and openly is the best way for a Scrum Master to collaborate with the Product Owner. Both must serve as servant leaders without being authoritative, and each depends upon the other working reciprocally for a Scrum team’s success (e. g., accomplishing a Sprint Goal). They are allies in coaching the organization to become and remain agile.
A Product Owner is responsible for providing prompt feedback on product matters, clarifying goals, and ensuring that the entire Scrum team understands the product vision, strategy, business model, existing constraints, and customers’ problems.
A Scrum Master, in return, supports the Product Owner in building a high-value, actionable Product Backlog. To this end, they must facilitate effective collaboration between the Product Owner and the Scrum Team.
Question 05: The Product Discovery Process
Should the Scrum team become involved in the product discovery process, and, if so, how?
There are two principal reasons why a Scrum team should be involved in the product discovery process as early as possible:
- The sooner Developers participate in the product discovery process, the lesser the chances solutions will be pursued that are technically not viable or would not result in a return on investment.
- Involving a Scrum Team early on ensures that the team and its Product Owner develop a shared understanding and ownership of what the Scrum team will build to create customer value.
This helps significantly with allocating efforts to the right issues, maximizing value for the customer. It also helps mitigate investment risk by maximizing the amount of low-value work not done.
Involving the Developers early in the product discovery process ensures their buy-in and the team’s willingness to participate in all phases of a product’s development. This motivates the team to participate when making changes necessary to accomplish Sprint Goals or Product Goals.
Question 06: Supporting the Product Owner
The role of the Product Owner is a bottleneck by design. How do you support the Product Owner so that they can maximize the value of the work of the Scrum team?
This question revisits the previous. Again, your candidate should focus on explaining why involving the Scrum team early in the product discovery process benefits both the Product Owner and the organization.
Additionally, Scrum Masters can effectively support Product Owners by ensuring that the Product Backlog refinement process is continuous and of a high-value regarding the Product Backlog. “Garbage in, garbage out“ does apply to Scrum. Essentially, the Scrum team either wins together or loses together.
Question 07: Access to Stakeholders
How can you ensure that a Scrum team has access to a product’s stakeholders?
When answering this question, your candidate should explain that there is no simple way to ensure access to stakeholders.
For example, in larger organizations, functional silos, budgeting and governance practices, and organizational hierarchies often effectively limit team members’ access to stakeholders. Overcoming this organizational debt, thus building trust among all participants, is a prime objective for the work of Scrum Masters (and Product Owners).
Your candidate should encourage stakeholders to communicate effectively in a transparent, helpful manner. Sprint Reviews are a proper venue for this, and the interaction often promotes better relationships between Scrum teams, different departments, and business units.
Question 08: Stakeholders and the Agile Mindset
How do you promote an agile mindset across departmental boundaries and throughout an organization and, in pursuit of that, what is your strategy when coaching stakeholders not familiar with agile product development?
There are various tactics a Scrum Master can use to engage stakeholders with Scrum, for example:
- Most importantly, a Scrum Master should live and breathe the principles of the Scrum Guide and the Agile Manifesto. They should talk to everyone in the organization involved in building the product, and they should be transparent about what they do. (Read more: 10 Proven Stakeholder Communication Tactics During an Agile Transition.)
- Product and engineering teams can produce evidence proving to stakeholders that Scrum is significantly reducing the lead time from idea to product launch.
- Product and engineering teams can demonstrate that Scrum mitigates risk (for example, in the form of a forecast of when new features could be made available), thus contributing to other departments’ successes in planning and execution.
- A Scrum Team can be transparent concerning their work and proactively engage stakeholders by inviting them to Sprint Reviews and other events where the team communicates their activity or progress, but also their need for candid feedback from stakeholders.
- Training for everyone in the organization, particularly the stakeholders, is important. One hands-on approach is to organize workshops designed to teach agile techniques for non-technical colleagues.
Question 09: Scrum and Senior Executives
How would you introduce Scrum to senior executives?
This is a deliberately open question meant to encourage discussion. In answering this question, your candidate should elaborate on how they would support the creation of an agile mindset throughout an organization or, more specifically, how they would create a learning organization that embraces experimentation to identify the best product for its customers.
A good candidate will likely talk about the necessity of ‘selling’ agile to the organization to win the stakeholders’ hearts and minds. They will also point to the need for a high-ranking executive to sponsor the transformation.
At the beginning of a transition, any organization shows inertia to change. To overcome this resistance, executives and stakeholders need to know how Scrum will benefit them before they’re likely to commit. (Read more: The Big Picture of Agile: How to Pitch the Agile Mindset to Stakeholders.)
One practical approach when introducing Scrum to senior executives is to organize workshops for higher management levels. Applying Scrum at the executive level has been successful in the past. Executives, and potentially even key directors, can gain first-hand experience with agile practices if organized as a Scrum team.
There is no right or wrong answer to this question. Good practices need to take into consideration an organization’s culture, size, product maturity, legal and compliance requirements, and the industry it is operating.
Question 10: Overcoming Stakeholder Resistance
You’ve already provided your product’s stakeholders with training in Scrum. After the initial phase of applying the concepts, when the first obstacles are encountered, some of these stakeholders begin to resist continued adoption. What is your strategy for and experience in handling these situations?
This question is meant to encourage an exchange of ideas and lessons learned when overcoming resistance to Scrum within an organization. Familiarity with agile failure patterns common to many organizations will demonstrate your candidate’s experience. (I have published a list of several agile failure patterns.)
Your candidate should also be familiar with the challenge middle managers face in any transition to agile practices. Moving from a command-and-control style (for example, managing people and telling them what to do) to a servant-leadership style — thus abandoning Taylor’s principles — is not for everyone. Concerns of middle managers if they may become redundant when all teams are self-managing need to be acknowledged.
Read more: Why Agile Turns Into Micromanagement.
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 Scrum Master interview questions on the Scrum Master role 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.
So, go for a pragmatic veteran who has experienced failure in other projects before and the scars to prove it.
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The article Scrum Master Interview Questions 2023: The Scrum Master Role was first published on Age-of-Product.com.