The latest State of Agile report once again highlighted Scrum as the most popular Agile approach: 66% of companies follow it closely, and an additional 15% follow derivations of Scrum (ScrumBan 9% and Scrum/XP 6%). Understandably, then, there’s a huge demand for Scrum Masters.
What is the Scrum Master responsible for?
Before we start with preparations for the interview, let’s figure out who the Scrum Master is and what responsibilities they have.
The Scrum Master is the coach for the Scrum Team. They help clarify how to use Scrum, what the values are, why transparency is important, and why we need to continuously inspect and adapt the process.
The Scrum Guide says that “the Scrum Master is accountable for the Scrum Team’s effectiveness. They do this by enabling the Scrum Team to improve its practices, within the Scrum framework.”
1. Scrum Master Role
The Scrum Master is a true leader for the team, and the leadership style here is entirely different from classic project management. The main goal of the Scrum Master is to teach the team and nurture them to become self-managed. The Scrum Master doesn’t solve all issues, but instead shows the Team how to do that. Understanding these basics will help you think in the right mindset and answer tricky questions during an interview.
Scrum Master interview questions about the basics might include the following:
- Describe the responsibilities of the Scrum Master.
- What is a self-managed team?
- How can a Scrum Master build a self-managed team?
- What leadership style makes sense for a Scrum Master?
2. Agile and Scrum Theory
A must-have for a candidate is a deep understanding of agile and scrum theory.
Here, we specifically mean the latest edition of the Scrum Guide, and the Agile Manifesto and the Twelve Principles behind it. Try to understand the Manifesto, the meaning of each statement, and how to implement them in the real world. And be ready to demonstrate what benefits the project will have.
Often, candidates come to an interview and don’t know the difference between Sprint Review and Retrospective, or don’t care about old and new editions of the Scrum Guide. The Scrum guide is only 14 pages long; even if you are a Scrum Master now or have already read it, read it one more time before the interview. Knowing and understanding the Scrum Guide will at least guarantee you a few more correct answers in an interview.
Questions for a Scrum Master interview in Agile and Scrum theory:
- What is Agile?
- What is Scrum?
- What benefits does Scrum give us?
- How is Scrum organized?
- What is the purpose of each event in Scrum?
- What events are mandatory for the Scrum Master to attend?
- What is a Daily Meeting and how should it be managed?
- What would be your agenda for Sprint planning?
3. Coaching and Facilitation
The Scrum Master must be a good facilitator, so you should be ready to answer questions about the facilitation of meetings. It’s good to know at least a few facilitation techniques. To pass Scrum Master practical interview questions, be ready to answer both theoretical questions and the inevitable follow-up: “How, exactly?” So, for example, as a situational interview question for Scrum Master, you may be asked to conduct a Retrospective — how would you do it?
The Scrum Guide says that the Scrum Master is a coach. A set of coaching skills, techniques, and tools is needed for successful work with both the Product Owner and Developers.
Facilitation and coaching questions:
- What is facilitation/coaching?
- What facilitation techniques do you know?
- Could you please conduct a Retrospective right now? Here’s a hint!
4. Backlog management questions for a Scrum Master interview
Product Owners are people who come from business; quite often they don’t know how Scrum is organized and how to manage the Backlog appropriately. So knowing different prioritization techniques also will be a plus.
Product Owners struggle with Backlog organizing. The Scrum Master, as a Coach, must help with this chaos from unorganized User stories. You should know at least about the User story mapping technique of organizing requirements and how to work with the Backlog in a task tracking system. For example, as advice, you may suggest creating Epics and Features within the Backlog, group them, and group User stories under them.
Questions to ask a Scrum Master in an interview about Product Backlog management:
- What is a Product Backlog?
- What are the Product goal and Sprint goal?
- Give an example of a well-formed user story.
- What is the difference between the Definition of Done and Acceptance Criteria?
- What is a Definition of Ready?
- What is a Product backlog refinement?
- What are SMART and INVEST?
5. Team Management
Not only the Product owner, but Developers also might need help in becoming Agile-thinking team members. Not all team members will have experience working with Scrum, or you might even face a situation where the team sabotages some of the Scrum events. What would you do in such cases?
In situations where the team doesn’t support Scrum as a process, remember Scrum values: commitment, focus, openness, respect, and courage. Explain to the team the benefits of each and why we need every event, especially Sprint Review and Retrospectives. Keep in mind that, for many people, it is hard to change the way they work and think, especially if they have previously followed a completely different approach.
A candidate for a Scrum Master position should also know team forming stages and conflict resolution techniques.
Scrum Master practical interview questions about team management:
- What is a self-managed team?
- What are Scrum values?
- What team-forming stages do you know?
- What conflict resolution techniques do you do?
- What are the benefits of using Scrum?
6. Estimation in Scrum
Estimation techniques are among the most popular questions to ask a Scrum Master candidate during an interview. To be well-prepared for these questions, you should not only be able to describe planning poker and story points (those two are must-haves), but also at least a few more techniques: the bucket system, dot voting, T-shirt sizing.
To answer estimation questions, read about why we use the Fibonacci series in Scrum and explain to the team how to estimate in story points.
Questions for a Scrum Master interview about estimation techniques:
- What estimation techniques do you know?
- How would you facilitate a new team’s very first Refinement session?
- What are the advantages of relative estimation?
- What are capacity and velocity?
- How is velocity measured?
7. Project Metrics
A candidate should know the definition of the metric itself, the metric’s purpose, and at least a few metrics that could be used for Scrum teams. Please don’t limit your knowledge and experience to velocity with its different variations. A lot of good metrics are proposed by Scrum.org in the Evidence-Based Management Guide. It is also useful to know the definition and use of Kanban metrics, such as work item age, throughput, the difference between Cycle time and Lead time, and how to read cumulative flow diagrams.
Project metrics questions to ask a Scrum Master in an interview:
- What is a metric?
- What project metrics do you know?
- What is a Burndown chart?
- How is cycle time measured?
- What metrics does it make sense to collect to measure the project’s progress?
In this article, we’ve tried to cover the most common questions required for a Scrum Master interview — check out Exadel’s list of open positions and try your hand! If you still have questions, contact us.
Resource Section for Scrum Master Interview Preparation: