The scrum master is a key member of the scrum team, but also a somewhat misunderstood one, which can make the hiring process problematic. Put simply, the scrum master is the person responsible for promoting and supporting scrum.
But what does that mean? It means that the scrum master is the one who helps everyone else understand scrum theory, practices, rules and values. Think of the scrum master as a servant leader for the scrum team, but also as a person who helps those outside of the team understand how to best interact with the scrum team. However, as important as the scrum master is, the position is not project leader. They are not accountable for outcomes: the whole team is.
It’s a difficult position to fill, as the scrum master needs to help the team reach consensus on tasks and timelines, facilitate the daily scrum meetings, keep the team focused on what has been agreed on in those daily scrums, remove obstacles in their way and protect them from distractions.
How do you find the right candidate to fill that role? That question can only be answered by other questions. After thinning down the herd of resumes to those who match your needs most closely, it’s time to speak individually to the applicants. Here are some scrum master interview questions to help you make the right decision.
1. How Do You Define Agile?
This is a tricky one. It’s a controversial question in that the definition of agile is not commonly agreed upon. Is it a methodology? “No,” protest some, who believe it’s a framework of approaches and behaviors that encourage iterative development and collaboration between self-organizing teams. Is there a right answer? Yes, the one that conforms to your approach and culture.
2. What Differences Do You See Between Agile and Traditional PM?
Since scrum is part of the larger agile idea, it’s always good to see how the person distinguishes between the waterfall model that moves one phase at a time and the short, frequent feedback loops of agile. If the person is unable to make these distinctions clear to you, they will not serve as an influential scrum master.
3. Is There a Time When Waterfall Is Preferable Over Scrum?
There shouldn’t be an all-in-or-all-out approach to any project. Sometimes a hybrid methodology works best. Other times a strictly traditional course best serves the project. For example, if the work is simple, predictable and fully defined, it would probably be right to use waterfall. This scrum master interview question will determine if the candidate is thinking of their focus or the overall good of the project.
4. How Does Agile and Scrum Differ, If They Do?
If the person is unaware that scrum falls under the larger umbrella of agile that’s, a problem. There are four main values and 12 principles of agile, while scrum has its own set of values and principles. Scrum is a framework to help teams become agile. This question will reveal whether the candidate is in fact a scrum master.
5. Do You Know Other Agile Frameworks?
Scrum is not the only framework for teams to become agile. There is also kanban (which uses kanban boards), test-driven development and feature-driven development, to name a few. See what frameworks outside of scrum the person has worked with and how that played out in the project. You want to know how expansive their knowledge is.
6. Are You Certified?
There are certifications for scrum master, and that might be a prerequisite for your hiring decision. But it might not be, either. Some believe in certification, others less so, but either way it’s helpful to know a candidate’s background. This is a way to open that door.
7. What Does a Scrum Master Do?
Like we noted above, the scrum master is a unique position. Scrum has three main roles, which are the product owner, scrum master and delivery team. They’re cross-functional but not shared among other projects. But not all projects follow these rules precisely. How you run the organization and how well the candidate can be flexible or has experience in your way of doing the work will determine how good a fit they’ll be.
8. How Do You Run a Daily Scrum Meeting?
The daily scrum meeting, or standup meeting, is foundational to scrum. They are held each day and run by the scrum master, who will ask these three questions: “What did you do yesterday? What are we planning to do today? What is blocking us from doing that?” This is not a status update for stakeholders but a way to focus the team. If the person up for the job doesn’t understand this, they’re not qualified.
10. Do You Encourage Automated Testing for the Project?
Scrum often uses automated performance or regression testing to deliver software as fast as possible. What are the tools the candidate prefers? How well have teams worked with these tools?
11. How Long Are Your Sprints?
Sprints are usually one month or less, in which a usable and potentially releasable product increment is created. But a sprint can be as short as a week. Two weeks, however, is the average. Where does your candidate fall on this spectrum? This can tell you a lot about how they’ll work on your project.
12. Do You Allow Someone to Change a Requirement?
The correct answer to this is yes. Agile requires a lot of feedback from both customers and stakeholders. The goal is to improve the product. Change is the constant in agile, so much as it’s embraced as a means of getting the project done better and faster.
13. What Kind of Metrics Do You Use When Measuring a Project’s Progress?
There are many ways to answer this, from burndown charts to burn-up charts, which are the standard metric for determining how much you’ve done within the time you’ve allotted for the work. But it’s always good to know how the person measure the project, as it’s the only way to determine how well things are progressing.
14. Have You Managed More Than One Scrum Team at a Time?
Of course, scrum guidelines say that only one scrum master per team. The key in the question is the use of the word “managed” rather than “led,” as scrum masters don’t manage, they lead. So, ask this scrum master interview question as stated above, and see if the candidate is really listening.
15. What Requirements Do You Use for Teams?
The scrum requirements are written as user stories and the scrum master isn’t usually the one who writes them. But they might help the product owner do so. That way, the stories can be prioritized and ready for the sprint.
16. How Do You Deal with Discord on Your Team?
Here’s another practical interview question. There’s always going to be some conflict when a group of people are working together for a common goal, and sometimes that conflict is a positive thing. However, too much will derail the project. Have the person explain when there was team conflict and what they did to resolve that conflict such a fashion that egos weren’t bruised, and the team remained bonded afterwards.
17. How Do You Motivate a Team New to Scrum?
Maybe you’ve assembled a new team that is not practiced in scrum or even skeptical of agile. They’re more interested in working and find meetings only interrupt their progress. Has the candidate ever been in such a situation and, if so, how did they handle it? This question relates to the one above, only in a more specific scenario that might speak to your concerns.
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