Scrum Master recruitment – the interview

Read the previous part first: the job description.

I want to focus on the meeting as crucial and vital to finding the right person. I already mentioned, the Scrum Master’s recruitment process requires verification of both technical and soft skills. But these aren’t the only essential aspects of the process.

The regular interview should not take long – 60-90 minutes should be enough to assess the candidate and to have all the information needed to decide on future steps. In the past, I participated in a few Scrum Master’s recruitments, which expected from me to pass several stages – from 1-on-1 discussion, by real-life role-playing scenarios to facilitate meetings. Everything took me almost the whole day. Right now, I am sure that we might finish most of these assessments within an hour or two.

I would like to share with you how my process looks. I based it on Daniel Kahneman’s interview process.

Daniel Hahneman’s process

For me, it works pretty well. It lets me focus on aspects which are relevant from my perspective, and the whole process is so simple that you can adapt it to any recruitment process.

Daniel Kahneman composed his process in the 1960s for the Israeli army, and after over ten years it was still used within the unit. They did not find anything else which gives similar results.

If you are serious about hiring the best possible person for the job, this is what you should do. First, select a few traits that are prerequisites for success in this position (technical proficiency, engaging personality, reliability, and so on). Don’t orverdo it – six dimensions is a good number. The traits you choose should be as independent as possible from each other, and you should feel that you can assess them reliably by asking a few factual questions. Next, make a list of those questions for each trait and think about how you will score it, say on a 1-5 scale. You should have an idea of what you will call ‘very weak’ or ‘very strong’.

Daniel Kahneman – Thinking, fast and slow

Prerequisites for success as Scrum Master

Based on the above instruction, I was able to produce a few characteristics which I evaluate during my interview (it is quite similar to my Scrum Master’s role description). For Scrum Master’s job, I try to check:

  • Teaching and coaching the team in Agile and Scrum
  • Ability to work with transparency
  • Servant leadership
  • Impediment remover
  • Ability to change the working environment
  • The credibility of previous experience

I score the candidate based on these characteristics during the conversation – some can be easily validated via questions, others via role-playing or quick exercise or case-study problem. The possibilities are limitless.

Teaching and coaching the team in Agile and Scrum

A large part of Scrum Master’s job is to teach and coach the team and organisation in Agile and Scrum. To be able to do it properly, the Scrum Master should have vast knowledge about Agile and Scrum. Learning about Agile and Scrum is just the beginning of the journey. I call it level 0. I may easily verify them by asking a few questions about the Agile Manifesto or the Scrum Guide – Empiricism, Scrum Values and all other elements which exist on their foundation.

All certifications are a nice addition, but they are not required. I met Scrum Masters who haven’t had any certification to confirm their knowledge, and they were much better than some CSM/PSM holders – because they verified their understanding of Scrum and Agile “on the battlefield”. Thanks to real-life experience, the candidate can coach the team and train – not only theoretically, but with practical knowledge and usage of different techniques and methods.

It is just a starting point to dive deeper into the Agile universe and verify all other dimensions. After this part is clear, I like to discuss Empiricism.. why?

Ability to work with transparency

It is something I’ve devalued for too long! I though empiricism is just an addition to the Scrum framework – that I do not need to focus on it. However, recently I revaluated my thinking. Right now, it is an essential element in my Scrum Master’s toolbox. Thanks to transparency, Scrum Master may show the team the reality as it is.

Scrum Master should become the “mirror” of the team

friend of mine

If Scrum Master should become the mirror – he has to work on transparency. Deciding by using inspection and adaptation but without transparency is like walking in the dark – you may get somewhere, but the goal you achieved may not be up to you.

With empiricism in place, there always is the next iteration – Scrum Values and ability to work on them.

Servant leadership

Servant-leadership is entirely in line with the Scrum values of courage, openness, respect, focus, and commitment. It’s the backbone of the Scrum Master role and therefore the most obvious one. Knowing Scrum Values is not the same as living by them. Through my discussion with the candidate, I try to assess his ability to work within the Scrum Values.

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

5th principle from Agile Manifesto

Great Scrum Master should be able to dig out team’s “full potential” – it may be meetings facilitation, the ability to listen (and not only hearing) and the ability to work on trust as the foundation of team development. Here I try to assess also the Scrum Master’s abilities and will to experiment – to try different approaches, to let the team fail, and to learn based on this experience.

Scrum Master is also responsible for creating an environment, where the team can work effectively. It means that the candidate to become Scrum Master should work with impediments as hard as with the team itself.

Impediment remover

Do you know what impediment is exactly? How can you help the team? Are you sure you are the right person to take care of them? Can you find the root cause of the team’s problems and take care of them? Are you able to work on them daily or only on retrospective? All these questions are valid regards this characteristic. Great Scrum Master should be able to resolve these issues.

Eventually, every Scrum Master have to work on a higher level than only the team when facing impediments. That means Scrum Master will need to change the working environment at some point in time.

Ability to change the working environment

Ability to undermining the status quo is an essential skill for any Scrum Master and is strongly connected with removing impediments and often requires great courage. Especially when change achieved on the team level is not enough and Scrum Master has to switch his focus from the team to the organisation to be effective. Working outside of the team will require changing not only the working environment but also organisational culture. Do you have guts to do it? Are you able to face cultural change? Create a culture, where Scrum Values can flourish?

Scrum Master's focus over time
Scrum Master’s focus over time

Trust is the last valid point for my conversation. It is above all previous ones and normally I touch it across the whole discussion.

The credibility of previous experience

I focus not only on what the candidate is saying but also on the information from the candidate’s CV. Additional experience or skills which the candidate possess may be as important as Scrum experience. Have you worked in Kanban? Do you have experience in traditional methodologies? I want to check this as well. Starting from the known may be a great entry point to any conversation, but you have to be honest. I noticed that candidates like to put into their CV pieces of information which are not necessarily true. It happens more often than I would like to admit. Please stop doing that.

Less is more

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

If you do not have knowledge about a specific method or you never used it, do not add it to your CV. You always can let the recruiter know that you are interested in the topic, but not necessarily have experience. You do not want to lose your face.

The results

There may be more points which I discuss during the interview, but I put all of them into frames of the above six. All these elements are vital for the Scrum Master. Some of them are based firmly on knowledge, and others require developing proper skills and the right attitude – good mix to start.

As long as the candidate possesses a solid combination of these six characteristics, I can tell if:

  • the candidate can give value to the team
  • I would like to work with him/her

And all above achieved in around an hour-long discussion.

What about the gut feeling?

There will always be a time to your intuition play the first fiddle. The process put your hunch aside until your structured assessment is complete. If you want to check more than one candidate and be able to compare them, you need a scale on which you will be able to put out candidates and weight the results.

Geoff Smart and Randy Street claim in their book that result of using intuition without proper preparation is similar to the coin flip. Building your recruitment process based on the above structure does not take long, and if you can get more value on the output, then what stop you from trying?

Feedback is what candidates value the most

Scrum Masters are continually trying to teach teams and individuals, why feedback is essential, and how to give it effectively to others. Feedback let everyone (and everything) grow. Because of that, Scrum Masters require feedback about exercises which he (or she) went through. It is what they value the most. Even if the result of their recruitment process were negative, it still could be turned around to have a positive outcome. Thanks to feedback about their performance around the recruitment process, they can improve in the future. Scrum Masters would love to give you feedback as well! Thanks to that both sides win, but in a much more important game than that single recruitment.

Inspirations*

* – links do not contain any references. I am not making any money on your purchases.

A natural born Scrum Master. Always mentally attached to Agile - initially a member of Development Team, eventually Scrum Master in the Scrum Team and Agile Coach in the organisation. The most important for me is to deliver value to end-users thanks to engagement of motivated team. For the past few years I have been gaining experience in project, product and team management. I prefer people-oriented managing style. I constantly repeat to everyone that good work environment can give huge benefit in to the project, its product quality and working environment. Because of that I became Scrum Master to fully support my teams as servant leader by using transparency, inspection and adaptation. I help other teams to be better specialists in their field of action. I see their success as my own even if I am working from shadows. I love to share my experience and knowledge on conferences and meetups - as a speaker and participant. Still trying to discover new ways of work and to improve my workshop.

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