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ScrumMaster Interview Tips

by Shane Hastie on Jul 13, 2009 |

The ScrumMaster or Iteration Manager is a crucial role on Agile teams, and selecting which organisation or team to work with is important – when considering taking on a new project it’s important to set the environment up for success. 

The Agile Manifesto emphasises the importance of People over Process, and a large part of the ScrumMaster’s responsibility is creating a team environment where people can collaborate to deliver working software effectively.

The official Scrum website defines the responsibilities of the ScrumMaster as:

The ScrumMaster is responsible for the proper and complete implementation of the Scrum process. To the degree that the implementation must start with trade-off's and incomplete practices because of the implementation environment, the ScrumMaster will always keep the benefits and values of the complete implementation in mind and incrementally move the team and organization toward that end state.
The ScrumMaster is specifically responsible for:

• Removing the barriers between development and the customer so the customer directly drives development;

• Teaching the customer how to maximize ROI and meet their objectives through Scrum;

• Improving the lives of the development team by facilitating creativity and empowerment;

• Improving the productivity of the development team in any way possible; and,

• Improving the engineering practices and tools so each increment of functionality is potentially shippable.

Given the criticality of the role, it is important to ensure that the person taking up the role of ScrumMaster on a team is right for the role, and that the environment enables success.  David J Bland of the Scrumology blog provides a list of 10 questions for the potential ScrumMaster to consider when considering taking on a new team/project:

1. How long are your iterations? – Ideally this is 2 weeks, but if it is close within reason it is a positive sign. Be wary of extremely long answers that slip into months, as these are not agile characteristics.
2. What is your team size & make up? - Small, cross functional teams are important. Take note of any answers that lean towards large silos of developers. You may also want to follow up on whether or not the team is distributed or co-located.
3. Are your Product Owners available for questions? – A non-existent Product Owner can wreak havoc on an agile team. This could be why the Scrum Master position is vacant!
4. Do you use Continuous Integration? – It is difficult to remain true to the tenets of agile with a clunky batch process for code deployment. Try to pin them down on what tools they use here to prevent them from sidestepping the question.
5. Do you use Test Driven Development / Design? - Similar to CI above, TDD is another indicator of agility. Again try to find out the tool set they use for this process, as it will vary by technology stack.
6. How do you document User Stories? – There is no one perfect answer for this, but they should touch on small excerpts of functionality that are on a task board or in project management software. Lengthy SRS or functional specifications should raise a red flag.
7. What metrics do you use for tracking? - Points or hours should be sufficient. I’d pay attention on whether or not their fibonnacci scale goes to extremes. Measuring actuals vs estimates can lead the conversation to some interesting areas. Try to determine whether or not actuals are used against team members.
8. How often do your teams meet? – This should be every day if you are playing the role of a true Scrum Master. This can be more challenging with distributed teams in different time zones.
9. Do you have executive buy-in for agile? – While I’ve practiced grass roots agile without executive buy-in, I would not jump head first into a position without knowing the big picture. If the employer states that even C-level executives have received CSM/CPO training it is a big plus in my book.
10. What other responsibilities does the Scrum Master have? – Depending on the organization this can vary, but it is worth asking especially if they responsibilities do not interest you in the least. It is better to know about them now!

Johanna Rothman, Steve Smith, George Dinwiddie  and other Aye Conference hosts provide a list of useful tips for interviews and assessments, for both interviewer and interviewee:

Interview tips:
  • Use open-ended questions as much as possible
  • Use behavior-description questions as much as possible to get real live examples
  • Use meta questions to ask about what else to ask about separate strategic questions of management from tactical questions of technical staff
Interview traps:
  • Never ask leading questions, such as "is your manager a bozo?" You won't get an honest answer and the question diminishes your authority, authenticity, and credibility. A lot to lose in one question.
  • Avoid opinion questions such as, "Do you like what you do?" Instead, reframe it as, "What's working for you here?" and "What prevents you from getting your job done?"

What traps as out there for unsuspecting ScrumMasters, and how can they be avoided?

 

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One important question is missing by Johannes Link

"Do you have team member buy-in for agile?" I've stumbled a few times after realizing this was not the case.

Re: One important question is missing by Amr Elssamadisy

So does everyone have to buy-in? Is it doomed if they don't and you ask them to suspend their disbelief and give it a try?

Re: One important question is missing by Johannes Link

Sure you can try, but: No initial buy-in from the team results in considerably reduced odds to succeed.

Re: One important question is missing by Joshua Ewer

So does everyone have to buy-in? Is it doomed if they don't and you ask them to suspend their disbelief and give it a try?


One of the Scrum tenets is self-selection; if you don't think Scrum is for you, move to a different team. So, yes, you can try without team buy-in. However, if you do so, and the entire team hates the methodology, the logical conclusion for a C-level exec is that "Scrum/Agile is bad. Let's try something else." I have yet to be successful if the majority of the team isn't *at least* interested in giving it an honest try.

I based these tips... by David Bland

off of a recent interview I had with a high profile Agile coach / mentor position.

I landed the job, and decided to share my approach with others in hopes they do the same.

Good luck future scrum masters!

New website with Scrum certification and interview questions by Daniel Butcher

For all people either interviewing candidates for Scrum related positions, or studying to be a Scrum Master, there is a great site www.whatisscrum.co.uk. There are free questions there as well as a full mock CSM (Certified Scrum Master) mock test for a small price. This is a useful resource that I have used to test out candidates for their Scrum knoweldge.

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