Scrum Master Interview Questions (6): The Sprint Planning
TL; DR: Scrum Master Interview (6): Demand Creates Supply and the Job Market for Agile Practitioners is No Exception
Scrum has proven time and again to be the most popular framework for software development. Given that software is eating the world, a seasoned Scrum Master is nowadays in high demand. And that demand causes the market entry of new professionals from other project management branches, probably believing that reading one or two Scrum books will be sufficient. Which makes any Scrum Master interview a challenging task.
Suppose you are looking to fill a position for a Scrum Master (or agile coach) in your organization. In that case, you may find the following 73 interview questions helpful in identifying the right candidate. They are derived from my sixteen years of practical experience with Scrum and XP, serving as Product Owner and Scrum Master. So far, I have interviewed dozens of Scrum Master candidates on behalf of my clients. This article covers a new set of questions on Sprint Planning.
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Download the 73 Scrum Master Interview Questions PDF
The free 73 Scrum Master Interview Questions PDF is not merely listing the questions, but also contains background information on:
- Why the questions are useful in the process.
- A range of appropriate answers.
Two to three questions from each category will provide more than enough ground for an engaging 60 minute-long conversation with candidates.
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Scrum Master Interview Questions: How We Organized Questions and Answers
The ebook provides questions and guidance on the range of suitable answers. These should allow an interviewer to dive deep into a candidate’s understanding of Scrum and her agile mindset. However, please note that:
- The answers reflect the author's personal experience and may not be valid for every organization: what works for organization A is likely failing in organization B.
- No right multiple choice questions exist to identify a candidate’s agile mindset, given the complexity of applying “agile” to any organization.
- The author shares a holistic view of agile methodologies: agile equals product discovery (what to build) plus product delivery (how to build it).
Please find the following new set of Scrum Master interview questions to identify suitable candidates for the Scrum Master or agile coach role. This latest set covers additional questions on Sprint Planning:
Question 1: How would you organize the Sprint Planning?
This open-ended question allows the applicant to share war stories from the trenches and their general idea of how a Scrum team should handle Sprint Planning.
One way to organize a Sprint Planning is:
- The Product Owner introduces the business objective for the new Sprint. (From the Scrum Guide: “The Product Owner proposes how the product could increase its value and utility in the current Sprint.”)
- The whole Scrum team creates a corresponding Sprint Goal.
- The Developers commit to the Sprint Goal.
- Moreover, they identify necessary work items to accomplish the Sprint Goal, most likely from the Product Backlog. Alternatively, they create new work items.
- Probably, the Developers also refine work items, if necessary, and plan how to accomplish them.
- We refer to the package of Sprint Goal, selected Product Backlog items, and their delivery plan as the Sprint Backlog.
Question 2: What factors should a Scrum Team consider at the Sprint Planning to determine a feasible Sprint Goal?
Typical criteria for a Scrum team to consider are, for example:
- Who will be present during the Sprint; is there anyone on holiday or sick leave?
- Are people leaving the team requiring a last-minute knowledge transfer, or do new people joining the team require proper onboarding?
- Will there be public holidays during the Sprint?
- Do we have all the tools necessary, and are we familiar with those?
- Are we familiar with the part of the application we will work on? Or is this terra incognita?
- Are we facing any dependencies on other teams?
- What level of address technical debt do we need to address?
- What was the Scrum team’s past performance?
As any Scrum team plays an infinite game, and there are no winners. Most likely, Stakeholders will regard a Scrum team as successful when it manages to create value for customers and the organization every single Sprint.
Therefore, from a team perspective, building rapport and trust with stakeholders requires more Wallstreet-like expectation management: stakeholders value a reliable delivery more than a sporadic outburst of productivity. This understanding should guide the Scrum team in determining feasible Sprint Goals.
Question 3: Is it acceptable for the Product Owner to introduce a business objective for the upcoming Sprint that resembles a list of random work items?
Scrum is at its best when the team can work as a unit to accomplish a single, important goal. As a result, Scrum is good at scoring match points. However, Scrum falls behind when the team has to toil on an endless list of unrelated work items with little to no cohesion.
While such a random list of “stuff” may be an occasional necessity for every Scrum team, the situation should raise eyebrows when it persists. If every Sprint looks like this, the team should reflect on whether Scrum is the proper practice to proceed in general or what it can do to improve its way of working. Here, the interviewer offers the applicant a segway to elaborate on classic Scrum anti-patterns that may contribute to the situation.
Question 4: Is it okay to use a ‘Definition of Ready?’
Using a ‘Definition of Ready’ depends on the Scrum team’s situation. For example, suppose it is a junior team still struggling with the mechanics of Scrum. In that case, it might be a temporarily helpful way of taking some of the pressure off the team during Product Backlog management, refinement, and Sprint Planning. On the other hand, a senior Scrum team will have found its mojo and won’t need to rely on training wheels.
However, suppose the ‘Definition of Ready’ is used dogmatically as a checklist, rejecting all work items during Sprint Planning that are not 100 percent covered by this new standard. In that case, you are reintroducing waterfall through the backdoor; only the Developers are doing that this time.
Even worse would be the organization's use of a ‘Definition of Ready’ as a team metric or indicator for a Scrum team’s “fluency” in agile product development.
Question 5: Is it a helpful idea for the Developers to plan all work for the whole length of the Sprint during Sprint Planning?
Planning the complete Sprint on day one in advance bears the risk that the Developers do not consider learnings and new insights achieved during the Sprint. Furthermore, this way of proceeding resembles the introduction of some waterfall-style planning through the backdoor, putting the accomplishing of the Sprint Goal unnecessarily at risk by ignoring early feedback loops.
Scrum address this problem with the Daily Scrum that answers one question: Are we still on track to accomplish the Sprint Goal? Or have we learned something since the last Daily Scrum that encourages us to reconsider our current plan?
Question 6: Your organization highly values when deliveries match forecasts. Is that something worrisome?
Absolutely. If your organization does not take “underperformance” kindly, everyone will start playing safe. As a result, Scrum teams will routinely choose smaller Sprint Goals and deliver less value than they would be able to do in a more trusting, safe environment.
Question 7: Should a Scrum Master worry about the utilization rate of the Developers?
Absolutely not. Scrum is not another approach rooted in the industrial paradigm with some “agile lipstick” on top, emphasizing self-management only to micro-manage team members.
Scrum, on the other side, is about accomplishing the Sprint Goal without regard to the output. Here, the Scrum Master is the coach of the team, not the enforcer of “production quotas.” Speaking of which: When solving complex, adaptive problems, focusing on output metrics, such as the utilization rate of your workers, is useless. Adding more code, for example, does not create value per se.
This question provides a segway for the applicant to delve into the general differences between the industrial paradigm and agile product development.
How To Use The Scrum Master Interview Questions
Scrum has always been a hands-on business, and to be successful in this, a candidate needs to have a passion for getting her hands dirty. While the basic rules are trivial, getting a group of individuals with different backgrounds, levels of engagement, and personal agendas to form and perform as a team is a complex task. (As always, you might say when humans and communication are involved.) And the larger the organization is, the more management levels there are, and the more likely failure is lurking around the corner.
The questions are not necessarily suited to turn an inexperienced interviewer into an agile expert. But in the hands of a seasoned practitioner, they support figuring out what candidate has been working the agile trenches in the past.
So, go for a pragmatic veteran who has previously experienced failure in other projects and the scars to prove it.
📖 Recommended Articles
Regarding the general preparation for the Scrum Master job interview, I recommend the following literature on Scrum, Scrum Master, and team building:
Peer Recruiting: How to Hire a Scrum Master in Agile Times
The Scrum Master Salary Report 2022
22 Scrum Master Anti-Patterns from Job Ads
Scrum Master Anti-Patterns — 20 Signs Your Scrum Master Needs Help
Download ‘82 Scrum Product Owner Interview Questions’ for Free
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