Hiring a good Scrum master isn’t a walk in the park.
And not because demand exceeds supply. Competitive salaries combined with affordable certifications are drawing more than enough creative and driven people toward a promising career in Scrum mastery.
Your problem isn’t going to be finding people with credentials. It’s recognizing who’s going to be successful working with your Scrum team. I ask seven specific questions to find out.
No two interviews are the same, but every good Scrum master does exhibit certain key qualities. These are the seven Scrum master interview questions I’ve found most effective for revealing candidates’ practical knowledge of conflict resolution, communication, flexibility, and other soft skills so fundamental to Scrum master success.
Before we dive in, a word of caution…
Avoid basic Scrum questions
Your Scrum master needs a solid grasp of Scrum theory. So I can understand the impulse to ask entry-level Scrum questions during the interview—for example, how Scrum works, or what it values, or the product building challenges it solves.
But there are three reasons why I avoid these types of Scrum master interview questions.
One, a Scrum concept could take less than two minutes to describe, which doesn’t tell you much about the person you are interviewing.
Two, you’ll find out quickly enough whether they have the fundamentals down, anyway. Using more multidimensional questions, you’ll uncover their working knowledge of Scrum, rather than their rote knowledge.
Three, you can always follow up with the basics if you need to. To get a better idea of how the candidate would resolve a backlog issue, for example, you might want to step back and understand how they navigate the various roles of the Scrum team.
My main gripe with basic questions is that they’re objective. They don’t give you a lot of information about a candidate’s soft skills, which are so crucial for the Scrum master role.
The Scrum framework is important to understand, but so is how a leader responds to the real-world pressures they’ll likely face.
Without further ado, let’s talk about how to get those responses.
The only 7 Scrum master interview questions you need
1. Why do you want to be a Scrum master at our company?
Scrum masters should have a reason for applying for a position at your company in particular.
If they get hired, they will be dedicating a good chunk of their waking hours to the unique challenges and goals of your teams. They should be able to imagine themselves investing emotionally and mentally in your product and company culture. And you want to make sure they have a reasonable understanding of what their day-to-day is going to look like.
This is an open-ended question that tends to draw interesting answers. Listen out for certain information:
- Are they offering your company relevant experience? Look at how they plan to pay their knowledge forward.
- Can you tell that they did their homework on your company’s positioning, values, and mission? The ability to gather actionable intelligence for meetings is an important quality of Scrum masters.
- Can you tell they’re aligned with that brand framework? It’s one thing to understand it, quite another to invest in it. This is how you’ll foresee their satisfaction in the job.
2. What does “people over processes” look like in practice?
Here’s an interview question that allows Scrum master candidates a ton of freedom to demonstrate what they know and how they think.
Valuing people over processes is complex. Do they make it sound too easy?
There’s no “right” answer to this question, but there is a catch: in part the Scrum master is responsible for making sure the team adheres to Scrum principles. Agreed upon processes have to continue even through disagreements on tasks. What happens when this core part of the Scrum master’s mission butts up against the opinions of individual team members?
Pay attention to how the candidate weighs the needs of themselves, the team, and the organization.
3. A team member has stopped attending daily Scrum—what do you do?
I’m a fan of situational questions. Many Scrum masters have to deal with some version of this one.
Hopefully, they understand the glitches that can come from uneven meeting daily Scrum attendance. That letting it continue is asking for blind spots to emerge during the sprint and a truly team-wide knowledge base is critical for decision making.
How would they intervene? Their answer can clue you into how they perceive the role of Scrum master: not as an enforcer, but as a confident mentor and mediator who can help team members understand the consequences of their decisions.
4. How do you address new requirements in the middle of a sprint?
Scrum is designed to be responsive to last-minute changes. But it inevitably adds stress to the team.
With this question you’re really asking:
- What ideas does the candidate have to help a Scrum team manage scope changes?
- How would they go about integrating those changes into the current sprint?
- Can they make judgment calls about what can be deprioritized to the next sprint?
Good Scrum masters are happy to make their case to higher-ups about not having the bandwidth to take on more than is reasonable. The team needs to know their Scrum master is willing to go to bat for them—and can reorient them to new challenges, or help them turn challenges into opportunities to improve.
Shielding the team’s productivity from change is critical. You’ll know this candidate is capable if you get a hint of their openness, flexibility, and ability to coordinate different stakeholders.
5. Your team’s velocity drops over the course of several sprints—what should you do?
When this happens, management looks to the Scrum master for answers. They’ll need to be prepared with ways to diagnose the problem—if there is one.
Velocity is a measure of the Scrum team’s capacity to complete work during a sprint. It’s a vanity metric (total story points completed divided by number of sprints), so there are limits to what it can tell you.
For example, velocity drop doesn’t always indicate a decrease in productivity. Velocity could fall in scenarios like choosing to fix bugs as they come up rather than take on technical debt.
But maybe the drop isn’t for good reasons. If it is a productivity issue, where are the sticking points?
The Scrum master doesn’t need to have the answer, but they have to be good at enabling the team to find it. You’re asking this question to make sure the candidate understands that, and to learn the steps they would take to identify areas for improvement.
6. Do you track each team member’s daily Scrum tasks?
This is a bit of a trick question, but something you want to be on the same page about as any Scrum master you hire.
You may disagree with me on what qualifies as a good answer, but that’s all the more reason to ask. This question will show you whether the candidate is aligned with your company’s idea of good collaboration.
Generally, though, a good Scrum master enables their team’s self-organization. They’re not a task master. They help coordinate the team’s work rather than oversee individual work.
It’s hard to imagine formal tracking of team members’ daily tasks accomplishing anything positive over the long-term. Much more likely to come are micromanagement and singling out.
So, the short answer you’re looking for is no. Even better if they can demonstrate how they would track progress without looking over teammates’ shoulders.
7. What is your favorite retrospective technique and why?
This is a fun one that sheds light on the candidate’s approach to another important sprint event: agile retrospectives.
It’s the Scrum master’s job to help the team build knowledge about how they work and improve their processes. Done right, retrospectives aren’t just an invaluable coaching opportunity for Scrum masters—they’re both informative and fun for the team.
The candidate should be excited about the possibilities for how to make them just that.
Follow ups for this question could be:
- What are their goals for the retrospective, generally?
- How do they measure the success of their retrospectives?
- Why do they think retrospectives work so well?
The sprint retrospective is a place the Scrum master can really make an impact. You want someone who is ready to make the event worth attending.
Let’s end on a quick note about an important prerequisite to the vetting process.
By now you might be wondering:
Should you only interview Scrum masters with certification?
If you’re interviewing someone without a Scrum master certification, you probably have good reasons for putting them on the short-list: real-world experience, readiness to take on a servant-leadership role, etc.
Personally, I value Scrum master certifications. But I’ve overlooked someone not having one before. Context is important—what else are they bringing to the table?
Don’t be afraid to ask whether they’re planning on getting one. Why or why not? Scrum is a framework based on continual improvement. A candidate’s interest in certification indicates their active investment in personal and professional growth.
And if your candidate is already Scrum certified, be sure to ask why they pursued that specific credential and what they learned from it. Scrum master certifications vary quite a lot, and the values they learned should reflect how your company practices Scrum.