3 Interview Questions for Scrum Masters

The Scrum master’s job is to put a framework on the software development process. If you’re implementing Scrum, you’ll need organizational and management skills, since you’ll work with the product owner on the product’s requirements and development. You’ll also work with the development team to make sure it’s adhering to Scrum practices.

Interview QsBeing a Scrum master takes serious people skills, says Jonathan Silva, customer success manager at Axosoft, a Scottsdale, Ariz., software company. “The entire time, you have to foster seamless communication between the product owner, team members and stakeholders, and it takes people skills to foster that relationship.”

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During interviews, be prepared to be tested on your soft and technical skills, says Steve Porter, community and member services director for Scrum.org, a training and accreditation organization. However, the bulk of the interview questions will likely involve resolving interpersonal problems and a candidate’s negotiating style, he adds.

Here are some questions you can expect to hear.

Describe a specific interpersonal conflict that you’ve handled and resolved as a Scrum master?

  • What Most People Say: “Once I stopped two developers from fighting. I sat them down and listened to each one’s side. Then I had them agree that getting no work done was unacceptable. They agreed, and I got them to resolve their issues.”
  • What You Should Say: “Two of the developers on my team were having serious design disagreements about the new WordPress plugin we were developing. Their progress was at a standstill, and our deadline was fast approaching. I pulled the two developers aside and listened to the problem as presented by each. One had major concerns about the direction originally set during sprint planning, while the other was defending the decision originally reached in the planning session. We were able to determine that the former developer felt his design input was not being taken seriously. He agreed to set aside his design alternatives and go with what was decided by the team. He has since begun preparing more rigorously for planning sessions to ensure his ideas are taken into consideration.”
  • Why You Should Say It: The response needs to be revealing, so it shouldn’t be just a series of events. Set up the situation, describe the problem, and detail the action you took. Explain what you learned in the process. Get specific about your approach to conflict resolution and your negotiating style. A good Scrum master has to be both a mediator and referee.

You’re a Scrum master, and your development team is constantly getting interrupted by the head of sales, what do you do?

  • What Most People Say: “I would go and talk to the head of sales and explain that they need to talk to the product owner instead of bothering the team. It’s important that the team stay focused on their current work, and it’s the product owner who is responsible for what the team is working on.”
  • What You Should Say: “I would educate the team members on how to effectively deal with these interruptions.”
  • Why You Should Say It: The Scrum master’s primary role is to teach, educate and coach. If you’re solving the team’s problems, then they don’t learn how to solve the problems themselves. The people who are closest to the challenges need to be the people coming up with solutions.

We’re looking to improve our team’s velocity by 10 percent this quarter. How would you achieve that?

  • What Most People Say: “I think I can help you reach your goals by ensuring that the teams are able to focus on the work inside the sprint and not get distracted by non-critical items.”
  • What You Should Say: “You say you want to increase velocity by 10 percent, but what are you really looking to improve? How are you measuring the value of what your teams deliver? Is your customer satisfaction low, and you want to improve it? Is your time to market bad? If so, have you analyzed why? Do you feel your team is not working hard enough? Velocity isn’t a value metric and shouldn’t be used as a yardstick to measure teams. There really shouldn’t be a suggestion on how to raise velocity.”
  • Why You Should Say It: If you ask a team to increase that number by 10 percent, they can often achieve it without returning any increase in value back to the organization. It’s your job to educate the organization on the Scrum framework. An excellent Scrum master should teach a product owner that he or she is responsible for maximizing value, not velocity or even productivity. Often a large amount of value can be returned, even when your velocity is low.

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3 Responses to “3 Interview Questions for Scrum Masters”

  1. Proquotient

    Scrum interviews can be tricky , while most of the times we expect theory based questions but these days companies prefer candidates who can are capable of applying those theoretical skills in real world.

  2. Thank you for the article.

    I would reconsider the “What you should say” for the question
    “You’re a Scrum master, and your development team is constantly getting interrupted by the head of sales, what do you do?” I may be wrong, but I feel you are confusing the ScrumMaster role with a functional manager (which have role overlap, but are not the same).

    The reason is laid out in the Scrum guide, “The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. Scrum Masters do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values. The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team. The Scrum Master helps those outside the Scrum Team understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren’t. The Scrum Master helps everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team.”, the section “Scrum Master Service to the Development Team” “Removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress;”, and “Scrum Master Service to the Organization” section “Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption; […] Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development; Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team;”

    The description of “I would educate the team members on how to effectively deal with these interruptions.” is not wrong exactly, but it is the ScrumMasters responsibility to educate and coach “scrum”. A scrum based educational opportunity may be teaching the team members to redirect the head of sales to the ScrumMaster (or Product Owner if related to roadmap/prioritization topics). Since this scenario identifies that the ScrumMaster is already aware, it is the ScrumMaster’s responsibility to “Remov[e] impediments to the Development Team’s progress;” The team is not expected to be context switched in this scenario, but to attempt to deliver the sprint goal. The head of sales interruptions, having the team member get mentoring to pushback on the head of sales directly, and the actual pushing back are all context switches that risk the sprint goal. Based on how this scenario is depicted, removing impediments is the ScrumMaster’s responsibility.

    I would also push back on the “We’re looking to improve our team’s velocity by 10 percent this quarter. How would you achieve that?” answers. I feel uneasy about the section of the response, “Often a large amount of value can be returned, even when your velocity is low” mostly due to the team should already be working on items of the most value/ROI (prioritized by the Product Owner). The “large amount of value” answer does not address the concern and may gloss over a potential real constructive issue with the team’s delivery.

    Velocity is not defined in the ScrumGuide (similar to User Stories are not defined in the Scrum Guide) because it is just one of many team tools for measuring and forecasting. I like that you call out digging into the request to understand the root concern. I feel the better answer is to, a. dig into the root of the request (as you suggest) and then b. see if the team’s velocity and amount of work pulled into sprints are consistent over multiple sprints. The value is to first make estimations and delivery consistent (not faster). This normalizes the data while avoiding playing metrics games where estimate are sandbagged. As teams mature, velocity normally will organically grow. Any additional recommendations would be based on the concrete root concern handled based on the Scrum Guide (and possibly Team Working Agreements).