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 51 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.
This article covers the ninth set of questions on Scrum success principles and their accountability/role level indicators.
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Download the 51 Scrum Master Interview Questions PDF
The free 51 Scrum Master Interview Questions 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.
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 new set of Scrum Master interview questions to identify suitable candidates for the role of Scrum Master or agile coach. This ninth set is focusing on Scrum success principles and indicators:
- We do not get paid to practice Scrum according to the letters of the Scrum Guide. We are getting paid to solve customer problems, thus 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/product teams can choose instead of Scrum.
- Scrum is not well-suited for either the simple or chaotic domain. Moreover, consider wisely before choosing Scrum for an endeavor located in the 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.
- There indicators for all three Scrum accountabilities that the respective individuals are successful in practicing their Scrum role.
Q 48: When to Use Scrum and what to Look for
Can we use Scrum to solve any problem, task, or challenge? Or do you think that Kanban or even Waterfall may be better solutions in some cases? Moreover, if we choose Scrum, what principles and success indicators shall we observe?
Scrum is not the Swiss Army knife for any problem a product team may be facing. Throwing Scrum at all problems indiscriminately will likely be an ineffective strategy. However, when Scrum is chosen for the proper purpose, four first principles support Scrum Masters to help their teams deliver:
Choose Scrum for the Right Purpose:
Choosing the appropriate application area for Scrum is essential. Referring to the Stacey Matrix, applying Scrum to the areas “Chaos” and “Simple” is a waste. Scrum is best used in the “Complex” area. Here, empirical process control thrives, applying transparency, inspection, and adaptation to iteratively, incrementally developing valuable product Increments, thus mitigating risk.
Strive for High Product Quality:
From day one, keep technical debt small and work continuously on high product quality, reflected in the Scrum Team’s Definition of Done. Achieving business agility requires dedication to product quality and excellence at the technical level. (Learn more: Technical Debt & Scrum: Who Is Responsible?
Create and Maintain an Actionable Product Backlog:
Garbage in, garbage out: No matter how your Scrum Team is everything else, a sub-standard Product Backlog will diminish all other team achievements. Hence, it would be best to support the Product Owner and the Developers to maintain a permanently “actionable” Product Backlog. By “actionable,” I am referring to a refinement level of the Product Backlog that would allow a Scrum Team to run a meaningful Sprint Planning at a moment’s notice. (Learn more: 28 Product Backlog and Refinement Anti-Patterns.)
Embrace Self-Management and Take It to the Scrum Team:
Restrain from solving problems that your teammates can solve themselves. I know it feels good to be helpful; however, it is not your job as a Scrum Master to become the team’s helping hand in all matters. Instead, make self-management our number one priority and ensure that everyone lives Scrum Values. Be a servant-leader at heart and, therefore, a good role model for the Scrum team.
Note: All sketches are taken from a previous Professional Scrum Master class; check out my upcoming training classes here.
Q 49: Scrum Master Success
How could you measure the success of a Scrum Master?
There are several indicators of the success of a Scrum Master, for example:
- The Scrum team regularly meets Sprint Goals and delivers valuable, done Increments.
- They have an excellent understanding of the Scrum framework and the challenges it poses to individuals and organizations.
- They are prepared to step into the background when the Scrum team is successful.
- The successful Scrum Master strives to become redundant concerning the daily operations of the Scrum Team. (A successful Scrum Master can take a holiday at any time, just saying.)
- They spend more and more time on working with the organization while the Scrum team is self-managing.
- The Scrum team has high morale; rarely, a team member leaves the team, but others want to join it.
- The whole Scrum team is dedicated to continuously improve their skills and capabilities, branching out into adjacent areas of the organization in the process.
Q 50: Scrum Product Owner Success
How could you measure the success of a Product Owner?
There are several indicators of the success of a Product Owner, for example:
- The Scrum team regularly meets Sprint Goals and delivers valuable, done Increments, see above.
- The successful Product Owner aligns stakeholders and team member regarding product vision and Product Goal.
- They are obsessed with creating value for the customers while creating a sustainable business for the organization.
- Successful Product Owners are data-informed, not data-driven. Progress is made through applying empiricism.
- They include the Developers in the product discovery process early.
- Product Owners expect to be challenged by the Developers during Product Backlog refinement regarding their choices.
- They are transparent and outstanding communicators.
Q 51: Scrum Developer Success
How could you measure the success of the Scrum Developers?
There are several indicators of the success of Developers on a Scrum Team, for example:
- The Scrum team regularly meets Sprint Goals and delivers valuable, done Increments; again, see above.
- Developers actively engage in self-managing during the Sprint to meet the Sprint Goal.
- They take control over the Sprint Backlog.
- Developers accept the collective responsibility for quality.
- They uphold product quality by regularly inspecting the Definition of Done in collaboration with the Product Owner.
- Developers keep technical debt at bay by allocating sufficient time to refactoring and bug-fixing every Sprint.
- They take their commitment to continuous improvement as a team seriously by acting on actions items from Retrospectives.
- Successful Developers have a collaborative mindset; for example, they share knowledge, pair program, or swarm to support other Developers accomplishing their tasks.
- They identify gaps in their knowledge or experience and reach out to others to help fill them.
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.
📖 Recommended Articles
Regarding the general preparation for the Scrum Master job interview, I recommend the following literature on Scrum, Scrum Master, and team building:
Peer Recruiting: How to Hire a Scrum Master in Agile Times
Download the ’Scrum Anti-Patterns Guide’ for Free
The Scrum Master Trends Report 2019
22 Scrum Master Anti-Patterns from Job Ads
Lipstick Agile — 15 Signs You Probably Need a New Job or to Roll-up Your Proverbial Sleeves
Speaking Truth to Power 2.0 — Taking A Stand as an Agile Practitioner
The Manifesto for Agile Software Development
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