Learn • May 4th, 2022 Scrum Master interview questions

Like any role on your team, what people have on resumes doesn’t always tell the full story of their experience. With these scrum master interview questions, you’ll be able to dig deep on what’s important to your team so that you can find the best candidate for the job.

People interviewing

Interviewing a Scrum Master seems like it would be easy. There’s a whole certification process where your candidate spent hours learning all there is to know. Didn’t they?

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Like any role on your team, what people have on resumes doesn’t always tell the full story of their experience. With these scrum master interview questions, you’ll be able to dig deep on what’s important to your team so that you can find the best candidate for the job.

Tips for interviewing Scrum Masters

With the certification process, you’ll often find that many Scrum Masters have the same answer to a question. That is, they know the “textbook” answer. This makes it difficult to separate those with real-world experience and those who just got certified.

To help separate those with experience from those who just read the book, keep these ideas in mind when interviewing Scrum Masters:

  • “What do…” not “What would you…” – Ask questions about their current behavior instead of what they might do in the future.
  • “What went well…” and “What didn’t go well…” – Expand on “textbook” answers with an evaluation of how things actually worked out.
  • “Tell me about a time…” – Quickly uncover if real-world experience informs their answer.

Scrum Master certification

Every Certified Scrum Master(tm) takes a similar training course. The content and delivery of the training differs from trainer to trainer, but it’s generally the same. So while you can’t learn much asking basic questions about the training, you can learn about their experience.

  • What was something unexpected or surprising that you learned?
  • What was the most important thing you learned during the training?
  • How do you plan to use what you learned in your day-to-day activities as Scrum Master?
  • What part of the certification training do you think could be left out?
  • What was missing from the training for you?

Scrum ceremonies

Because so much of a Scrum Masters spend so much time preparing for, facilitating, and summarizing Scrum Ceremonies it’s a great place to learn more about a candidate’s approach. And because each team is different, going deeper in some areas will be helpful.

Learn about a Scrum Master’s approach to the various ceremonies with these questions.

Daily scrum (standup)

The daily scrum is an evergreen part of any Scrum team. These questions help you understand how the candidate uses the meeting to help the team succeed.

  • When a daily scrum (standup) goes well, how does it go?
  • What’s the most important part of the daily scrum?
  • How does the team benefit from participating in the daily scrum?

Sprint planning

Sprint planning varies a lot from team to team, so use these questions to understand how the candidate will help achieve your team’s goals.

  • How would you describe the flow of a well-run sprint planning meeting?
  • Who should be involved in a sprint planning meeting?
  • What’s the most important thing the team needs from the sprint planning meeting?

Sprint review

The end of each sprint brings the sprint review. Occasionally, that means delivering good news, and sometimes bad. So, how will your candidate handle the sprint review?

  • What do you try to communicate to stakeholders as part of the sprint review?
  • How do you celebrate successes (or learn from failures) during the sprint review?
  • When the sprint review goes well, how does it go?

Bonus: Retrospectives

Most scrum teams end the sprint with time to reflect on the work. Most do it in the form of a sprint retrospective. Because retrospectives are part facilitation art and part following the script, it’s important to understand how scrum masters approach retrospectives.

  • What’s the most important part of the retrospective?
  • What is your favorite retrospective format or technique?
  • How do you prevent retrospectives from becomes boring and routine?
  • When a retrospective goes well, how does it go?
  • How do you handle a team member who isn’t participating in the retrospective?
  • Have they ever facilitated a Lean Coffee Retrospective?

Working with product owners

Whether it’s a product owner, business analyst, or product manager, the Scrum Master works with someone to help the team understand the needs of the business. This usually means helping the team understand the “why” and what it means to deliver value.

Use these questions to gauge how in-touch a Scrum Master is with the business:

  • What’s the most important outcome of backlog grooming?
  • How do you help the product owner handle multiple top priorities in the backlog?
  • On what criteria do you evaluate the readiness of a backlog item in the product backlog?
  • What are some techniques you’ve used for resolving conflicts with the engineers?
  • What’s the best way to help a product owner forecast what will get done in upcoming sprints?
  • How do you help a team struggling to consistently deliver value to the customer?

Working with engineers

Scrum Masters spend most of their time directly interacting with the Scrum team. And engineers make up most of your Scrum team, so understanding how a Scrum Master will work with your team is a critical part of the interview.

Understand how effectively a Scrum Master will work with your team with these questions:

  • How do you advocate for technical improvement work inside a sprint?
  • What’s the most important thing you can do for a team struggling to complete their sprint commitments?
  • What are some ways you help engineers pick the right implementation for a backlog item?
  • How do you balance the business’ need to deliver quickly with the need for writing quality software?
  • What does it look like when you have a strong engineering team lead helping you?
  • What are some techniques you’ve used for resolving conflicts with the product owner?

Interacting with stakeholders

Beyond the scrum team are the outside stakeholders. Executives, heads of other departments, customer service, and sales. These groups all contribute to the inputs to the scrum team and share in the rewards of the outputs.

While the interaction between a Scrum Master and stakeholders is typically limited to the sprint review, how a Scrum Master handles stakeholders has an impact on how the larger organization perceives the scrum team.

Learn how a Scrum Master will interact with those outside of the Scrum Team with these questions:

  • How do you manage stakeholders’ expectations of the scrum team?
  • What are some signs that the scrum team is not getting what they need from outside stakeholders?
  • What’s the most important thing you can do to improve the perception of the scrum team throughout the organization?

Continuous improvement

“Inspect and adapt” is the mantra of many scrum teams. The Scrum Master is often driving conversations around continuous improvement.

Understand how a Scrum Master thinks about continuous improvement with these questions:

  • What metrics are you capturing and reviewing as part of your plan to help the team improve?
  • What’s the most important thing you can do each sprint to help the team get better?
  • How do you balance getting the sprint work done with opportunities for continuous improvement?
  • When a team is showing signs of continuous improvement, what does it look like?
  • How do you identify areas of the team’s performance that need improvement?

Servant leadership

Most Scrum Masters won’t have any traditional management responsibilities for the members of the team. This can sometimes put the Scrum Master in the awkward position of having to be a leader on the team, without the authority to dictate changes.

That’s why many Scrum Masters take the approach of a “servant leader” whose leadership comes from serving the needs of the team.

Use these questions to learn about a Scrum Master’s approach to servant leadership:

  • How have you helped resolve conflicts among team members that are preventing the team from completing their sprint goal?
  • When the organization is not hearing concerns of the scrum team, how do you amplify their voice and find a resolution?
  • What’s the most effective technique to understand the true needs of the scrum team?

Conclusion

The questions you ask a Scrum Master during an interview are largely dependent on your organization. But using these questions as a guide, you can choose which are most relevant to you.

Most importantly you want to understand how the Scrum Master will fit in on the scrum team and help them achieve their goals and in turn the goals of the business.

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

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