Scrum Master Interview Questions (3): Daily Scrum and Sprint Retrospective
Last week, someone on Reddit asked whether there would be any other profession that requires attending a 2-day training class and would then pay as well as a Scrum Master job. This attitude is precisely why the 47 Scrum Master Interview Guide exists: Prevent imposters from slipping through the hiring process and causing damage.
If you are looking to fill a position for a Scrum Master (or agile coach) in your organization, you may find the following 47 interview questions useful to identify the right candidate. They are derived from my fourteen 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.
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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, is likely 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 the latest subset from the 47 Scrum Master interview questions to identify suitable candidates for the role of Scrum Master or agile coach: Product Backlog, refinement, and the Sprint Planning.
IV. Daily Scrum
Question 26: The Formal Daily Scrum
Would you recommend formal Daily Scrums for all teams, no matter the size or experience level?
In answering this question, your candidate should exhibit common sense regarding “ritualized” Daily Scrums. Daily Scrums are an important part of Scrum, but not all Daily Scrums need to be formal — a Development Team should not have a Daily Scrum for the sake of having it; it serves a different purpose than ticking off a box on a checklist. A small, experienced, and co-located team may use a morning coffee break for their Daily Scrum.
Nevertheless, the Daily Scrum is the essential inspect & adapt event of the Development Team: are we still on track accomplishing the Sprint Goal? Or have we learned something since the previous Daily Scrum that requires to change our plan of how to achieve the Sprint Goal?
Question 27: Impediments
Do you expect experienced team members to wait until the next Daily Scrum in order to ask for help overcoming an impediment?
When impeded, members of a Scrum Team should never need to wait, neither for a Daily Scrum nor any other event, to ask for help. A team waiting to ask for help is a team delaying progress. If the more experienced members of a Scrum Team are waiting for the next Daily Scrum before either asking for help or themselves dealing with an impediment, the Scrum Master has team-building work to do.
Question 28: Leading a Daily Scrum?
How do you handle team members who ‘lead’ Daily Scrums, turning the event into a reporting session for themselves?
There are no leadership roles in the Development Team. However, it’s not uncommon for some members of a Development Team to assume leadership. This typically happens when a particular team member possesses superior (technical) expertise, communication skills, or simply a greater level of engagement.
All teams go through Tuckman’s stages of team development: forming, norming, storming, and performing. Scrum Teams are no exception.
It’s important that when a member of a Development Team assumes leadership this does not result in other members reporting to them. A Scrum Master must be vigilant and intervene if necessary to ensure that all team members communicate and work together — during Daily Scrums and otherwise — in the spirit of Scrum.
Question 29: Waste of My Time?
How do you manage team members who consider Daily Scrums to be a waste of time and are therefore either late, uncooperative, or simply don’t attend?
Refer to Question 25, where addressing this similar attitude and the behavioral problem is discussed at length. Your candidate’s answers should address similar points.
Question 30: Stakeholder Attendance
Your team’s Daily Scrums are not attended by any stakeholder. Should that change?
Asking this question can easily spark a philosophical discussion about whether stakeholders should be allowed to participate in a Development Team’s Daily Scrums. Try to avoid this.
If stakeholders participate in a Development Team’s Daily Scrums, is it likely to result in a form of reporting that circumvents Scrum rules? Not necessarily. It’s good if some adaptation of Scrum can be made to work for an organization. Allowing stakeholders to participate in Daily Scrums need not be ruled out if the Development Team finds it acceptable. In fact, if stakeholders attend Daily Scrums regularly, this invariably and significantly improves communication between a team and their stakeholders.
So shall a Scrum Master encourage stakeholders to attend Daily Scrums? That depends on the context; your candidate should not rule out their participation immediately.
Question 31: Daily Scrum with Distributed Teams
How do you approach Daily Scrums with distributed teams?
Daily Scrums for Development Teams whose members are distributed between different offices or working remotely are not much different from Daily Scrums for Development Teams whose members are co-located. The exception is that distributed teams sharing board activity may require video conferencing when working with offline boards that mirror each other.
If a Scrum Team is using online task management or planning software like JIRA, the team’s boards can be online and updates can take place on-screen. This generally makes it easy for members of a distributed team to follow board activity. With online boards in place, a Zoom or Google Hangouts call will likely be enough for a distributed team to have their Daily Scrum.
Alternatively, the Development Team may try an asynchronous Daily Scrum by utilizing messenger software like Slack. It is the prerogative of the Development Team to decide on the best way of handling their Daily Scrum event.
Question 32: The Scrum Board
Can you draw an example of a Scrum Team’s Kanban board — right now?
In this question, the qualifier ‘Kanban’ is used as a teaser. Anyone interviewing for the role of Scrum Master should be able to draw a simple Sprint board.
The columns of a Sprint board should usually include columns such as:
- Backlog of tasks,
- Task In progress,
- Code review,
- Quality assurance,
Additional information may be included on or attached to any kind of board:
- Scrum Team members,
- Sprint or event dates,
- Definition of “Done,”
- A burndown chart (progress and work remaining over time),
- A parking lot (topics for future discussion).
Your candidate should mention that a Scrum Master is not obliged to provide the Scrum Team with a Sprint board. A board is the responsibility of the Development Team working with it. The Scrum Master should, however, support the effort with an introductory workshop on the subject if no member of the team is familiar with offline boards.
Read more: How to Build Offline Boards.
V. Sprint Retrospectives
Question 33: Participants of a Retrospective
Who should participate in a Sprint Retrospective?
Only the immediate members of a Scrum Team — Development Team members, Product Owner, and Scrum Master — should participate in that team’s Sprint Retrospectives.
Especially noteworthy is that the line-managers of a Scrum Team’s members not be present. Also, they should not be allowed access to the minutes of any Sprint Retrospective.
Question 34: Team Health
Should you check a team’s health during a Sprint Retrospective, or is doing so unnecessary? If you do, how would you go about it?
Measuring the health of a Scrum Team — that is, getting an idea about current levels of engagement and satisfaction — is useful for identifying trends that may affect productivity and team cohesion.
For example, one effective method of measuring the health of a Scrum Team is to circulate an anonymous multiple-choice questionnaire before the team’s Sprint Retrospectives. A questionnaire that requires just two minutes to complete and uses a simple scale for each of the questions — from 1 (terrible) through 2 (poor), 3 (neutral), 4 (good), to 5 (excellent) — is usually well-suited.
During the Sprint Retrospective, the team should discuss the results with an aim to uncover any concerns or frustrations they may be harboring. (See above, gathering data.)
Question 35: Retrospective Formats
What Sprint Retrospective formats have you used in the past?
There are various Sprint Retrospective formats in common use, and each is meant to accommodate different situations. Your candidate should have experience applying more than one of these formats and should be able to share their logic for having done so. Some basic formats for Retrospectives include:
- The classic format:
- What did we do well?
- What should we have done better?
- The boat format:
- What’s pushing us forward?
- What’s holding us back?
- The starfish Sprint Retrospective:
- Start doing…
- Do less of…
- Do more of…
- Stop doing…
- Continue doing…
You can embed all of these formats in the general Sprint Retrospective format popularized by Diana Larsen and Esther Derby:
- Set the stage.
- Gather data.
- Generate insights.
- Decide what to do.
- Close the Sprint Retrospective.
There are several websites available that help Scrum Masters to customize Retrospectives to the needs of the Scrum Team, such as Retromat or Tasty Cupcakes. Alternatively, Liberating Structures provide excellent tools, too.
Suitable candidates will elaborate passionately about their preferred ways and tools for delivering Retrospectives. Candidates that provide only mechanical answers require more scrutiny as the Sprint Retrospective is a key event from a Scrum Master’s perspective.
Question 36: Retrospective Fatigue
How do you prevent boredom during Sprint Retrospectives?
When required to attend an uninspiring Sprint Retrospective, members of a Scrum Team will become bored.
There are many possibilities for variation that can be used to prevent a Sprint Retrospective from being boring, and team members from becoming bored. A different location, a different format, and shortening or lengthening the allotted time box are just some of the variations that can be tried.
Scrum Masters might also use a team’s choice of action items to encourage and structure discussions around issues that matter to the team, thus creating engagement through acknowledgment. Web sites like Retromat offer hundreds of different games and exercises to make Sprint Retrospectives enjoyable and valuable for the whole team.
There is no single solution, and consequently no single correct answer, to either boredom or this question. What’s important is that your candidate acknowledges that boredom with routine might become an issue and that there are ways to deal with it.
Question 37: Not Delivering on Action Items
If your team is picking reasonable action items but not delivering, how would you address the situation?
During a Sprint Retrospective, the members of a Scrum Team would usually pick some action items — tasks to be done — and include them in the upcoming Sprint Backlog. If these action items are subsequently not completed in a timely manner, the Scrum Master needs to follow up.
A team might not be completing the action items they’ve picked because they’ve run into an external impediment. If this is the case, the Scrum Master has to address the cause, and the team can then catch up during a later Sprint.
However, if there is no external impediment, the problem is likely due to motivation, attitude, or personal issues within the Scrum Team. In this latter case, the Scrum Master needs to provide the team members with sufficient encouragement or motivation to overcome the problem — a Scrum Team is self-organizing.
If a team is not completing the action items they’ve picked and the problem ultimately cannot be resolved, picking action items becomes a useless exercise and the Scrum Team’s continuous improvement effort will suffer as a result.
Question 38: Follow-up on Action Items
Would you recommend following up on action items? If so, how would you do that?
The Scrum Team is self-organizing. However, there are always moments when working on improving its practices is less of a Scrum Team’s priority. In this situation, a Scrum Master should follow up on the action items — tasks to be done — that members of a Scrum Team pick during their team’s Sprint Retrospective to remember everyone that Scrum is not working without self-organization.
A good way for a Scrum Master to do this is to start talking about the status of the action items picked during the last Sprint Retrospective before picking new ones by initiating a discussion at the beginning of each new Sprint Retrospective. (Note: This is not meant to be a reporting session but practical help to get self-organization going with the Scrum Team.)
Suppose this discussion uncovers action items picked during a previous Sprint Retrospective that haven’t been completed as expected. In that case, the team needs to understand why this happened and offer its support to prevent it from happening again.
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.
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.
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