In simplest terms, Scrum is a type of project management utilized in software development, marketing, and other fields. A team practicing Scrum will chop up a project into smaller components and then attempt to complete those components in short periods, known as “sprints.” The Scrum master is tasked with helping the team execute scrum concepts and complete their sprints as effectively as possible.
If you’re interested in becoming a Scrum master, here’s what you need to know about the Scrum process and how a potential interview might go.
Scrum Methodology and Planning
At its best, Scrum allows teams to react quickly to changes in the project scope and goals. For example, if a customer decides that an app doesn’t need a particular feature, a team practicing Scrum can quickly take that change into account and readjust their workflow. In addition to the Scrum master who’s guiding the Scrum process, many Scrum-centric teams also have a product owner who keeps track of the project’s goals and the end-users’ needs, as well as workers (such as software developers, data analysts, and other specialists) whose job is to actually execute.
On a philosophical level, Scrum rests on “three pillars of empiricism”:
- Adaptation (changing as circumstances demand)
- Transparency (know everything that’s going on)
- Inspection (check your work and establish good feedback loops)
At the core of Scrum is the sprint. Before the project begins, the team will agree to the standard length of the sprint (many software development teams opt for two weeks). At the beginning of each sprint, the team will discuss what needs to be done and how they’ll accomplish it, with plenty of room for feedback and changes if necessary. During a sprint, teams will also meet for a daily standup in which they discuss their progress, problems, deliverables, and more.
Given the rise of remote work, a daily standup doesn’t necessarily have to take place in person, with many teams opting to carry out their discussions over a remote-collaboration tool like Microsoft Teams or Slack. Whatever the meeting setup, the Scrum master must help ensure that all team members come prepared, that they stay focused on the right discussion points, and that they actually call out any challenges or problems with the current sprint.
Sprint Review and Retrospective
At the each of each sprint, the Scrum master has a different set of tasks. It’s critical to solicit feedback from everyone involved in the sprint, and then figure out how to use that information to improve both subsequent sprints and the project overall. What work wasn’t concluded? What needs to be worked on next? Is it finally time to tackle some technical debt or a backlog?
A sprint retrospective is an even deeper dive into the effectiveness of the sprint, with a focus on continuous process improvement. This is an excellent opportunity for Scrum masters to tweak how the team conducts its sprints and how it can do better (under extreme circumstances, the team may also decide to cancel a sprint and go back to the proverbial drawing board).
If you’re totally new to Scrum, it might be helpful to review the Scrum Guide, which was written by people who originally started Scrum. Given how Scrum is an implementation of Agile, you’ll also want to learn as much about the latter as possible. If they’re amenable, find a Scrum master in your organization and shadow them as they carry out their role.
Beginning the Scrum Master Job Interview Process
When you apply for the role, you’ll find that Scrum master interview questions are rather specialized, and that’s because the Scrum master has a rather unique part to play on your typical technology team. They’re not project managers per se—that role belongs to actual project managers—and they’re not executives, even though they have a hand in managing the team’s workflow. Nonetheless, they should use the job interview as an opportunity to demonstrate how they can effectively guide teams in completing mission-critical tasks and goals (among other Scrum master skills).
Anyone applying for a Scrum master role should come prepared with stories that show how they’re part taskmaster, part organizer, and part manager; how they’ve ensured that their previous teams followed the Scrum framework, and worked hard to eliminate any distractions or impediments to particular goals. If you’re doing everything from helping the product manager deal with a backlog, to removing the team’s external blockers to progress, to educating everyone on Agile and Scrum principles… well, you’re going to need great people skills. In fact, your “soft skills” are one of the key things that will come up over and over again in scrum master interview questions.
But that’s not all you need! “In the IT industry, Agile method is rapidly rising as the norm in delivering,” Richard Cheng, VP of Training and Chief Product Owner at NextUp Solutions Training, told Dice. You should always come prepared to explain to a job interviewer how your previous experience as a Scrum master translated into real results.
An Agile coach and Certified Scrum Trainer, Cheng has deep experience in training organizations to understand core concepts around Agile, Scrum, Kanban, DevOps and how those concepts can scale in client organizations: “When doing Agile, at the execution level, the vast majority of teams are using Scrum.”
What Should I Know About the Scrum Master Job?
Cheng offers five key factors every good scrum master should have:
Knowledge: Deep understanding of Agile values and the Scrum framework, as well as other Agile practices and methods such as Kanban and XP (extreme programming) concepts.
Experience: Agile concepts are relatively straightforward, but often complicated to implement. In the course of Scrum master interview questions, the hiring manager or recruiter will likely focus on your past work with Scrum teams, and whether you have experience in implementing Agile concepts. Other questions will delve into your ability to work through the complicated nuances of creating effective teams.
Coaching: Scrum masters should wield very little official power; all their power comes from influence and guidance. To that end, companies are looking for someone with a deep understanding of how to work with people and coach them through decision-making and understanding of what’s effective.
Facilitation: A deep understanding of facilitation techniques to help individuals, teams, and organizations to brainstorm, organize ideas, and come to decisions.
Servant Leadership: In other words, having a deep sense of helping others. Servant leaders don’t need to be the center of attention; instead, they focus on creating an environment where everyone can succeed. During Scrum master interview questions, your collaboration and teamwork abilities will surely come up.
How Should I Prepare for a Scrum Master Interview?
Research the company long before you step through the door (or boot up your video-conferencing software) for the interview. “I recommend researching the company, in particular what is the current state of the company’s Agile practices,” Cheng said. “What is the driving force behind why the company is going towards Agile? What are some of the top issues the organization is seeing in their Agile implementations? From there, coming in with thoughts and perspectives on the items above.”
Identifying how an Agile development process may help the company drive results is an attractive talking point during the interview. You may need to dig through some whitepapers or developer blog posts to get a better sense of how the company currently operates, but such top-level knowledge can also help you stand out in a crowded field of candidates.
How can I Succeed in a Scrum Master Interview?
“Successful conveying their experience and expertise and then ensuring that the position begin offered is a good fit for what the candidate wants,” Cheng advised. “Explaining to an interviewer how the candidate can help the organization achieve their Agile goals. Also ensure that the company culture aligns with what the candidate would want in a company culture.”
As Cheng notes, a Scrum master should prepare to discuss their successes and failures in past roles, speaking more specifically to the Scrum process where applicable. Taking the time to discuss scrum master/Agile certifications also matters; if you have those, make sure to seed them into your answers to Scrum master interview questions.
Near the end of a job interview, the hiring manager or recruiter will often ask if you have questions for them. Cheng suggests this is a great opportunity to ask them what success looks like for the position you’re interviewing for. Not only will you get a sense of their expectations, but you’ll have a better understanding of what upward mobility looks like at the company.
You're always going to want to make sure that any skills, talents, or certifications you have that apply to this position are prominently displayed in your scrum master resume. After all, you want to make sure that a company knows you are the best potential candidate before you even go to your interview.
What are the Challenges Faced in this Position?
Scrum managers can often be taken advantage of, Cheng cautioned: “Being spread too thin, such as being spread across multiple teams” top the list of those concerns.
“Being in an organization that isn’t aligned with Agile practices” is also something to think about, as is “having individuals, teams, or departments that don’t embrace the Agile mindset. The organization not understanding what a Scrum master's responsibilities really are and conflating a Scrum master with a project manager.”
Overall, management’s metrics for success might align with what the Scrum master is planning. Your job will depend on results, but how are those results being measured? Knowing before you accept the job may prove key.
Standard Scrum Master Interview Questions
Curious about what a job interviewer might actually ask during a Scrum master job interview? Here are some sample questions to review:
- Do you have any Scrum master certifications?
- What are the three pillars of Scrum and how have you applied them to your previous Scrum jobs?
- What are the five Scrum events? (Sprint, Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum/Standup, Sprint Review, Sprint Retrospective)
- What’s your approach to sprint planning?
- How have you dealt with product backlogs? How about sprint backlogs?
- What makes a good user story?
- Describe a challenge you’ve helped a team overcome as Scrum master.
- How do you ensure all stakeholders are sufficiently involved in the Scrum process?
- Walk through how you run a daily standup.
- What do you consider your top skills as a Scrum master?
Whether you’re just starting out on your Scrum journey or you’re an experienced Scrum master, it never hurts to review the fundamentals of Scrum before heading into a job interview. If you have previous Scrum experience, take some time to recall the challenges you’ve faced, the processes you’re streamlined, and how you’ve helped teams succeed—all of that will likely pop up in an interview.
As with so many other tech roles, becoming a great Scrum master depends on continuous learning and improvement. Scrum masters know that effective listening is key when it comes to success; you can learn a lot from what product owners, developers, and other team members are telling you.