The Scrum Master Interview: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly [Part 1]

The 12th State of Agile survey held by VersionOne stated that organizations are realizing the benefits they set out to achieve by adopting agile. Also in this survey, they found that Scrum is the most adopted framework among the agile methods and practices. Not surprisingly, LinkedIn ranked the Scrum Master job among the top 10 promising jobs in America in 2017 (link).

The Scrum Master role has evolved during these 20+ years of Scrum. Nowadays, there are three generations out there working together in the marketplace, the generation X (baby boomers), Y and Z (millennials) with different working styles and values. Also distributed working environments are becoming more common bringing different cultures and communication challenges into the pitch. All of these requires not only technical but heavy soft skills to cope with this each time more complex environments.

The Scrum Masters play a key role in those organizations. But the outstanding questions are: How are we hiring those people? How are we assessing if they have the skills we need?

How are we hiring?

The most common hiring approach follows the structure below:

  1. Create and publish the Job Specification;
  2. Pre-screening interview;
  3. Interview (conversation based).
  4. Make the Decision;

I don’t dare to say this approach is right or wrong but instead I’d like to propose some possible improvements to each step.

1. Create and publish the Job Advertising

Your job ad is your business card to your candidates. It is your sales pitch to attract good candidates. Perhaps many organisations do not put much attention into it. On a quick search on LinkedIn, you will easily realise that there are so many misunderstandings around the Scrum Master role that this can repel good candidates far away from those companies.

I would like to cover two points here: Job Title and Responsibilities.

Job Title

Primarily, Scrum Master is a role as part of the Scrum Framework. It can be used as job title but it is not mandatory. Either way, it is possibly a good idea because it brings more clarity to the responsibilities implied in it.

Let’s take a look at some job titles. Here you can see some examples that I collected on a brief search on LinkedIn:

(Agile) Project Manager & Scrum Master
Comments: Project Manager usually links to command/control which goes totally against servant leadership and self-organization. In Scrum, the project manager responsibilities were spread out among The Development Team, Product Owner and Scrum Master.

Scrum Master & Product Owner
Comments: This is the configuration that we should avoid the most. It is impossible to balance out the interest of both roles being the same person, there will have always a bias towards one of them. Possibly, they are likely looking for a traditional project manager here.

Business Analyst / Scrum Master
Comments: Same as above, mixing product expertise with servant leadership of a Scrum Master can be quite dangerous due to the “conflict of interest”.

Scrum Master (Assistant Manager)
Comments: Are they looking for an assistant manager or a Scrum Master? A Scrum Master is not an assistant manager!

Senior Agile Scrum Master
Comments: As Scrum is under the agile umbrella, Agile Scrum Master sounds redundant.

The job title on your job spec can say a lot about your understanding about agile  and Scrum.

Responsibilities

Many responsibilities description on Scrum Master jobs specifications demonstrate that what companies really want are not Scrum Masters but Project Managers. See the examples below:

Report the Burndown daily and ensure the team is achieving the commitments every sprint.

Detail oriented with the ability to organize and prioritise tasks to ensure timely delivery of scope in sprints.

You work according to Agile method and handle product backlog and requirements for development and test teams.

To improve it, why don’t we start involving the Scrum Masters that are part of our organisations to help on it? They can also help out describing what is most needed given the current context of your organisation.

If you don’t have yet the expertise within your organisation I advise to take a look at the work that Barry Overeem did clarifying the role of Scrum Masters: The 8 Stances of a Scrum Master. If we really want to get the benefits that Scrum can bring to our environments, we need to look for skilled Scrum Master with the right understanding of the framework as well as skills to support the its adoption.

We don’t need to pretend that our organisations are something that they are not, transparency is one of the Scrum pillars. Let’s be honest, every single organisation faces challenges on their journey regardless if they are more or less mature.

I did like this job spec below:

New Jobs Spec

Simple, honest and clear!

2. Pre-screening interview

During the pre-screening phase, usually the HR selects all suitable applicants and discuss them with the line manager to either move them forward on the interview process or not.

But Scrum is about people and collaboration so that why don’t we involve the team during this step? If we aim to have self-organised teams, why don’t we involve them to help out to make this decision as well?

People feel accountable for the success of their decisions. In other words, by involving teams in the decision process, we are naturally increasing the level of collaboration that they will have with the new joiner to make him/her to succeed. Nobody wants to see failure on his/her choice.

It is important to make clear that when I mention teams, I mean the group of people that will work closer to the candidate if he/she is hired. For instance, a Dev Team, a group of Scrum Masters, Product Owners and/or managers, or all of them!

A short meeting facilitated by the HR where they present the main information that they have gathered from the candidate and using a simple technique of thumbs up/thumbs down followed by a quick discussion should be more than enough for this step.

To be continued at Part 2.

 

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