A friend of mine who happens to read my blogs contacted me the other day with a question – could you write a blog about “the five most important questions to ask a scrum master in an interview?” It seems that his company had interviewed a bunch of scrum masters and was not able to find a fit. In his words, “a lot of people think they want to be scrum masters but have only taken the one week training and don’t really get how to truly be successful in an enterprise workforce.” Having run into the same issue many times, I hope that I can provide some direction to help my friend and others faced with the same situation.
In the past, I have written about the problem of scrum certifications, specifically the Certified Scrum Master (CSM) certification. The issue is that people hiring scrum masters have mistakenly believed that a certification means more than it really does. Prior to interviewing a scrum master candidate it is essential to know that the CSM can be obtained by anyone who can sit still for two days and take an easy test. I am not sure how many people have failed the certification test but in over seven years of being intimately involved with Agile and Scrum I have never heard of a single one. If people cannot fail a test how good can the test be. Given this fact I am not even certain that a CSM should be part of the job description. A few months of “boots on the ground” scrum is better than the two-day training.
I have also written in the past about my favorite question to ask prospective scrum masters, namely,
“What book have you read recently that has changed the way you think about Agile and the way you go about your job as a scrum master (or coach) and why?”.
This question would certainly be on the list of five because it shows the desire of the candidates to better themselves outside of the normal workday. Agile and scrum are brief in words but very complex in practice. It is difficult to be a true “master” without looking past the Manifesto and two day training to what the experts are writing about. Bonus points to someone who replies with a book not written specifically about Agile or Scrum and having the ability to apply something from another discipline to their practice.
A big challenge in being a scrum master is understanding what makes for a good team. In my practice I have boiled it down to five aspects of a successful team. A good question would be to ask them
“what would you consider to be the five traits of a good Agile scrum team and why are these traits important?”
An experienced scrum master knows more than just theory. While a certification course can show us the happy path of scrum, the real world application is a lot messier. Like I don’t recall anyone ever failing the certification test, I don’t recall any seasoned scrum master not having to make adjustments or compromises when applying scrum. Of course these things are not optimal, but sometimes trade offs must be made in the short run in order to make things successful in the long run. The next question I would ask,
“Give me an example of when you have had to compromise or make a trade off in a Agile scrum implementation and why?”
A scrum master’s primary responsibility, in addition to the facilitation of scrum ceremonies, is to assist the team in removing impediments. A scrum master with experience should have multiple examples of how they were able to play the role of servant leader and remove impediments so my next question would be
“in your past please provide an example of a time when you successfully removed an impediment (or impediments) and what was the result?”
Most inexperienced scrum masters are able to speak to the scrum framework and the scrum ceremonies, but have not yet gained enough of an understanding of why Agile and scrum works. My last question (assuming I only have five) would be
“please explain why, when properly implemented, Agile and scrum are successful ways to create high quality software?”
I believe the questions above should aid anyone in assessing the true ability of a scrum master. I am also certain that there are many folks out there who might have similar or better questions that have been successful in the past. Please feel free to comment. In the spirit of open collaboration and helping others, like my friend, hire appropriately, what questions do you ask that have been effective