From the desk of a brilliant weirdo #1:
Are your hand shivering and pouring yourself with sweat right before your scrum master interview?
Do you feel quite uncomfortable, maybe unprepared, or maybe even lost in the darkness to what you can expect from the interviewer?
If so, this “Scrum Master Interview Questions and Answers” article can, without a doubt, boost your confidence up and put your worries at rest.
I’ve gone through some of the most common scrum interview questions and provided answers as well.
Big credits to Stefan Wolper, an agile coach, and his ebook about Scrum Masters.
Without further ado:
Scrum Master Role & Responsibilities (Overview)
It’s the Scrum Master’s responsibility to bring the development team on the same page by teaching them all the values and principles that fundamentally shape Scrum and, respectively, Agile.
One of the Scrum Master’s primary responsibilities is to ensure a distraction-free environment for his team.
The Scrum Master also participates in creating the product backlog helping the PO (product owner) prioritize tasks by importance.
And he is the one ultimately responsible for imbuing the organization with the Scrum values & principles by communicating with other scrum masters, stakeholders, etc.
So, if you are determined to follow a Scrum Master career path, earn the respective salary of a certified scrum master, and qualify for tons of scrum master interviews with the help of your brilliant scrum master resume, then this article can get you prepared for your first or next interview.
Now, before we dive in, here are a couple of…
Things (+ Tips) To Know Before The Scrum Master Interview
The questions you will encounter during a scrum master interview can vary widely based on the interviewer company and its values.
You might get asked kinds of questions about indifferent team members, keeping stakeholders in the loop, agile metrics, the barebones of scrum, and more. We’ll pretty much cover everything from exam-like, SDLC, and behavioral to more advanced technical and testing-related interview questions.
Of course, your experience will impact the interview process, as well. Senior scrum masters will get asked questions that an entry-level scrum master wouldn’t stumble upon until later in their career.
Also, regardless of your experience as a scrum master, you should always display curiosity and excitement in front of your interviewer. Tell the interviewer about your background and experience as a scrum master. Share what excites you (and what you think makes you a good fit) about the job position you are applying for. It will, without a doubt, boost your chances of getting hired.
Alrighty, let’s get you prepared for your scrum master interview…
Scrum Master Interview Questions and Answers
Agile & Scrum-related questions + answers
Explain to me the Agile mindset in your own terms?
If you can’t answer this question on your own then it’s best to go over the Agile Manifesto a couple of times.
How can you say that Agile is working in your organization?
- When the products you deliver to the end-user result in higher customer retention rates, upsells, and more customer acquisition.
- When the team genuinely feels happy, it can be considered that you are doing alright. There are no team members complaining about work environments. Nobody is leaving (or getting fired) the team.
- Lots of submitted job applications can also be considered as a metric for a well-performing Agile organization.
- If there aren’t piles of technical debt, bugs aren’t present, and there’s less time spent on maintenance, you can say that Agile is going well in your company.
What is the difference between Agile and Scrum (another newbie question)?
If you still struggle with explaining in simple terms, here’s a more straightforward definition that can make things easier for you:
Agile is a philosophy. Scrum is a framework and subset of Agile.
Agile describes a set of ideals and values. In contrast, Scrum gives you principles through which you can make your project management easier.
What’s your criticism of Scrum?
This can be quite an interesting question as it’s quite unusual.
It shows your point of view and rationalization process to a degree.
That’s something you should personally answer without having someone else tell you the “correct” answer.
Some developers consider the daily scrums to be a waste of time to a certain degree. Others believe that sprints can be managed better allocating more time to fixing the technical debt.
The Role of the Scrum Master — questions + answers
How do you demonstrate servant leadership?
As a scrum master in a development team, the last thing you want to do is blindly follow directions.
Before taking on a project, always assess the challenges it might bring to the table and how that may benefit the development team in its path to eternal growth.
“Blood and Thunder!” — in other words, be loyal to your team and try to win their trust. Put your team on a pedestal. Protect your fellow warriors from unreasonable deadlines or interruptions during project development. Acknowledge the team members’ successes. But don’t try to protect them from the consequences of their own behavior.
To ensure that the developers have smooth work progress without many hurdles along the way, you need to ensure that all task details are clearly conveyed and understood by each member of the team.
Spend time with the PO reviewing, testing, and refining all project requirements. Nothing should slip through the cracks.
What makes a good team?
A good team is a team in which:
- A developer doesn’t think, on their way back home, “What a waste of time… I can no longer stand Joe, fuck… what a BS team.” but instead says “Alright, let me think how I can solve this complicated bug that everybody else struggles with.”
- No one is siloed. Instead, everybody exchanges ideas for solving mutual bugs.
- You won’t be afraid to ask for help because you’ve witnessed teammates being scoffed and sniped at for asking for such.
- Others don’t take credit for your work.
- Everybody takes responsibility for their actions and no blame or finger-pointing is present.
What would you do when the team doesn’t like your ideas and instead suggests new ones?
A great behavioral question actually. A reasonable thing to do would be to ask for a cogent explanation from your team to back up their ideas. If their explanation makes sense, and the whole team is backing it up, maybe you should replace your old idea with the new one your team suggests.
Otherwise, explain to the team why their suggestions aren’t as good as yours and gently tell them that changes won’t be initiated.
How would you handle a situation where someone leaves early without notifying anybody?
Obviously, this is not typical behavior. Leaving early without letting anybody know can seem unfair to your whole team. Therefore, you need to make it clear:
- When someone leaves early, they should inform the team and give a legitimate reason for that.
- Team members who leave early should still be available on Slack or other communication channels if their help is needed.
How should a Scrum Master communicate with a Product Owner?
Always be honest and sincere. Both you and the PO should be aligned in your goals while developing the product backlog which will later on have an influence on the project’s success.
Should the development team be involved in the early phases of planning?
Absolutely. When you involve the whole team early on, you make sure that the developers are fully committed to completing the project with success. The development team’s participation in the early discovery phases can significantly help with time and cost estimates as well.
How would you spread Scrum across your organization?
By talking to other stakeholders in different departments and being transparent about your Agile progress. Another quite effective way would be to invite stakeholders to Scrum reviews so they can see for themselves the efficiency of the team.
As a new scrum master, what challenges are you aptly to encounter?
One of the biggest challenges you might stumble upon as a beginner scrum master is burn-out. The tons of meetings you have to attend, emails you need to send, and reports you should create can seem like energy-vampires at first.
Keeping the development team and other stakeholders on the same page can also be a difficult task. For this purpose, you need to create thoroughly-detailed reports to convey the project’s progress to the stakeholders. Keep task details clear and transparent in the backlog so that the scrum team can explicitly see the next step ahead of them.
Product Backlog-related questions + answers
Who is writing the user stories?
In writing user stories, all three parties (the PO, the Scrum Master, and the development team) make contributions. If the development team is isolated from the user story creation process, it might lack the motivation to complete the project successfully, which can result in a lower-quality product.
What’s the structure of a user story?
- A user-story description.
- Acceptance criteria.
- Performance criteria.
- Tracking criteria.
- Implementable within the Sprint.
- All UI deliverables are available.
Why aren’t user stories estimated in person-hours?
Because it shifts the team focus from value creation to saving costs. Estimating man-hours involves an unparalleled level of precision which can be time-consuming as well.
The product owner is constantly adding items throughout the sprint. Is that a good or a bad thing?
This is also a great behavioral interview question. Any backlog that goes beyond the scope of 2 to 3 sprints can become an unmanageable fire dumpster.
Adding hundreds of items just for the sake of adding them will lead to nothing else but chaos among the team members. Therefore, it’s the Scrum Master’s job to help the PO structure the product backlog in a way that will be easily manageable and won’t overwhelm the dev team with a myriad of tasks.
Sprint Planning-related questions + answers
How can you help the team to work on the most important stories first?
The Product Owner is ultimately the one who identifies user stories and makes an ordered list of items for the team to follow.
It’s the scrum master job (along with the PO) to ensure that no secondary user stories are ranked above primary ones.
To help the teamwork on the most important user stories, the scrum master can include developers in the initial planning stages when user stories are assembled.
How would you assess the value of a story?
- Cost reduction.
- Net promoting scores above 8 (NPS).
- Higher conversion rates (customer sign ups).
How much team capacity is reasonable to allocate for refactoring and fixing bugs?
A good rule of thumb is no more than 30% of the team’s capacity should go into fixing bugs and exploring new technologies or ideas. Say, 15% can go into managing technical debt, 10% into fixing bugs, and the rest 5% into developing new ideas.
A team member is cherry-picking tasks? How do you deal with that?
The development team has the ultimate authority to select the tasks it’s going to be working on.
However, if developers are cherry-picking secondary tasks before 1-st class items, they should be advised otherwise.
If the team has been working only on secondary tasks and running out of time, you won’t be able to ship an MVP when the time comes.
Pair programming can be a reasonable solution to solving this problem.
Daily Scrums-related questions + answers
How do you handle developers that act as leaders and turn daily scrums into reporting sessions?
As you may know, no leadership roles are present in Scrum.
Yet, it’s not uncommon for some developers to showcase leadership skills (superior technical knowledge, great social skills, or deeper level of engagement) and act as “mentors” to the rest of the team.
While that can be acceptable, what’s not acceptable is to ask other developers for reports. This can reduce the chemistry between team members and result in a productivity stagnation.
“People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.” — Thomas Sowell
How do you handle developers who consider daily Scrum to be a waste of time and therefore avoid them?
This can be quite a severe problem for the team environment.
Such members can turn out to be quite toxic at their core and convey only negative vibes, ruining the team’s spirit and productivity.
Here’s how you can address the situation:
1. Privately discuss, with the team member in question, their motives and attitudes. Try to figure out what’s going on in their head. Maybe they need to be further trained on the principles of Scrum.
2. If no change has occurred in the developer’s attitude afterward, it’s advisable to schedule a meeting with the department manager.
3. If you still can’t align the particular developer’s vision with your own and the team’s, then it might be reasonable to reassign the developer to a different team, a Kanban team for example, where they won’t be forced to step out of their comfort zone.
What if no stakeholders are present at the daily scrums?
Some people think stakeholders participating in daily scrums can turn the meeting into a reporting session. Not always true, though. In fact, it can improve communication between the development team and upper management.
How do you handle daily scrums with remote teams?
The only way you can approach this challenge and overcome it is, ostensibly, through video communication. Slack can be a perfect tool for leading your video calls with distributed teams. It’s important to note that the scrum team’s size shouldn’t go over ten people (recommended scrum team size is from 5 to 8 members). Bigger teams may require you to switch over to the SAFe framework. Getting familiar with SAFe, however, is a different topic.
Sprint Retrospectives-related questions + answers
Who are the people that should take part in the Scrum retrospective?
Sprint Retrospectives, according to the Scrum guide, are made only for the scrum team, the product owner, as well as the scrum master.
Should you check up on the team’s health (energy) during a retrospective?
It’s useful to measure the team’s health during sprint retrospectives in terms of their engagement and satisfaction.
This can influence their productivity which respectively impacts the quality of the final product.
You can measure the development team’s health by sending out an anonymous 2-minutes questionnaire to team members before the retrospective. A preferable questionnaire is one that features a simple scale from 1 (terrible) to 5 (awesome) as optional answers every question.
How can you avoid your retrospectives getting overcome by boredom?
The scrum master can acknowledge the developers’ suggestions for conducting retrospectives and thus encourage them to participate actively.
However, not every single meeting will go as you’ve planned it. Sometimes, retrospectives can be boring — accept it and move on. Next time try a different approach.
Transition to Scrum — questions + answers
How would you handle a Scrum transition of an organization that was heavily reliant on Waterfall before?
For the Waterfall-to-Scrum transition to happen, there needs to be experienced people in the team who have been practicing Scrum previously or are quite familiar with it to initiate the transition.
Something else you can do to smooth out the transition would be to upgrade the project management tools you are using.
Such tools (advocates of Scrum) can ease your team communication while accelerating the pace at which progress moves towards the goal line.
You can also conduct Scrum-related workshops, on-site practices & exercises about user stories, time & cost estimations, collaboration tools, and other tasks.
How can you prepare for a Scrum transition?
The most important thing when transitioning to Scrum is to first listen and observe everything and everybody.
Try to conduct as many interviews as you can with literally everybody in your organization — QA, UX, UI designers, product managers, developers, etc.
This will allow you to identify existing underlying problems in your organization.
Once you have a clear view of the things that may act as impediments in your Scrum transition, you can address and eradicate them. This process will typically take between four and twelve weeks, depending on the size of your company.
Scrum Anti-Patterns — questions + answers
What makes a bad Scrum Master?
When you, as a scrum master, allow stakeholders to disrupt the development team’s workflow, you aren’t doing your job right.
You have to keep your team strictly focused on the tasks they are working on. Don’t allow stakeholders to turn daily scrums into reporting sessions — it kills productive collaboration.
A bad scrum master will sweep team conflicts or problems under the rug hoping they’d just disappear with time passing. On the contrary, this can cause more significant problems further down the line.
Developers are acting as bullies during the sprint retrospective, belittling other team members. This is actually the scrum master’s problem as it shows they aren’t interested in the team’s well being. The scrum retrospective should feel like a safe place for all members, including introverts, where they can share their struggles and improve.
What can go wrong in a retrospective and how to avoid it?
Don’t force team members to participate in the scrum retrospectives. It’s probably the scrum master’s fault for not making the meeting worth the team members’ time.
Developers should be fueled by motivation & inspiration, not by fear and order.
Don’t postpone items for the next retrospective.
Suppose there’s a blame culture going on during the sprint retrospective. In that case, you should take measures to prevent that from happening further down the road. Otherwise, your team might completely break up.
How can you (as a Scrum Master) identify where you need to improve?
Be susceptible to feedback. Ask your team and stakeholders what you can do to help them (and thus improve yourself as well).
Experiment with your team’s suggestions. Search for innovative solutions to lead your team.
Maybe having a fully dedicated retrospective meeting spanning a few hours can be much more useful than your past attempts at stuffing everything that happened during the sprint in a 10-minute meeting.
Agile Metrics-related questions + answers
Your team is failing to meet deadlines, and its velocity is volatile. What are the most probable reasons for that? How would you handle such a situation?
Many factors make a Scrum Team’s velocity volatile:
- New team members unfamiliar with the environment and the organization’s ways of doing things.
- Developers leaving the team or getting fired.
- The team working on projects that aren’t anything similar to what they’ve encountered before.
- Unexpected technical debt and bugs.
- Holidays, sick leaves, maternity leaves.
- Scope changes.
- The product backlog is just a mess. Developers struggle with selecting primary tasks and instead end up working on secondary assignments.
What are suitable Agile metrics for leading Scrum?
First, you need to use metrics that concern the team as a whole and avoid individual metrics.
Second, take context into consideration as well. For example, members being on holiday or sick leaves can result in changes in your metrics.
Examples of suitable agile metrics are:
- Lead time.
- Cycle time.
- A number of defects escaping to production.
- Ratio of fixing work to create new value.
So, there you have it.
I’ve tried to cover a variety of scrum master interview questions and sincerely hope that reading this article will help you handle your next interview better.
Let me know in the comments what other interview questions you have stumbled upon. I’d love to see.