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5 Questions to Ask When Looking for the Right Scrum Master

Looking for the right Scrum Master to work with your Agile team? This post is for you. Check out five questions that Ashwin Chandrasekaran recommends asking candidates.

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If you're looking for the right Scrum Master to work with your Agile team, then this post is for you. I talk about two things in this post: why a Team Leader may not be a right fit for the job, and five questions that you can ask yourself when conducting a Scrum Master interview.

Team Leader vs. Scrum Master

In a few teams that I've worked with, there was a misconception that a Team Leader is the right Scrum Master. I have seen this assumption fail many times. The main reason is the difference in competency and skills required for a Scrum Master as opposed to a Team Leader or a Project Manager.

Another common mistake during recruitment is what I call certification bias.

If a person holds a certification like CSM (Certified Scrum Master), he or she is preferred for the role. A certification introduces a person to certain skills, but whether the person is truly capable of acquiring these skills and using them in their job is a different story. It is true that they have a better chance of being the right Scrum Master, but that is not always the case. 

Now that you know that a designation or certification doesn’t qualify a candidate to be a Scrum Master, let’s look at the five questions.

Ask yourself these questions if you are either interviewing an external candidate or evaluating an internal candidate. Positive answers may suggest that the candidate fits the bill.

1. Is the Candidate a Good Listener?

What does listening have to do with being a good Scrum Master? A lot.

If you closely observe the daily standup meeting of an experienced Agile team, you may find that the Scrum Master is extremely quiet. This doesn’t mean lack of participation; it means that he or she is listening to others and will pitch in as needed. Active listening is an important attribute to look for in a Scrum Master candidate. 

2. Is the Candidate a Good Facilitator?

Have you ever watched an orchestra? If so, have you paid close attention to the conductor? The conductor makes sure that the tempo is set, that correct entries are made by the individuals, and that there will be a great overall performance.

A Scrum Master plays exactly the same role in an Agile team.

He or she is reasonably detached from the team and doesn’t get his or her hands dirty. Like an orchestra conductor, he or she ensures that everyone understands and moves towards the common objectives. He or she takes the responsibility to ensure a successful delivery of the complete show.

Your interview must include some probing or questions to understand if the candidate can play this role.

3. Can the Candidate be Passively Authoritative?

Passive authority refers to someone who can be passive most of the time and let the team drive the show while making necessary minor adjustments along the way. But if things are way off target, this person puts on the authoritative hat. He makes assertive decisions and controls individuals to set things back on track.

Passive authority is a Scrum Master's preferred attribute.

Agile teams should be empowered and able to self-organize themselves in most occasions. When they aren't, the Scrum Master must pitch in and use authority. In times of illness, command-and-control can be used as a medicine in sufficient dosage.

In your interview, probe for hints and find out if the candidate can use authority when it is demanded by the situation.

4. Does the candidate have Good Communication Skills?

A Scrum Master acts as an entry point into the Agile team.

This person is responsible for sending out relevant information about the team progress, in suitable formats, to other stakeholders in the project. He is also responsible for acting as a filter and bringing the right information into the team. Just like a filter, he must prevent noise and irrelevant information from entering the team.

Good communication skills greatly help with these responsibilities. Language skills are just one part of effective communication. Being able to choose the right format and apply rational thought are other important attributes to consider.

Make sure the candidate has these skills before making him or her the Scrum Master of your Agile team.

5. Can the Candidate Pick Up Subtle Signals?

In a team, people don’t always speak things out. There are several ways to understand non-spoken realities. Observing body language, paying close attention to the words used, and judging attitude are some of them.

The Scrum Master must be smart enough to pick these signals. He must be able to understand the project trends and not simply be a reader of metrics.

For example, if there are big variations in velocity between iterations, the Scrum Master must use his or her mind, delve further, and understand the root cause. Reporting the deviation to management team is only half of the job done.

Let me recap everything we discussed in this post:

  • A Team Leader or Project Manager doesn’t automatically qualify to be a Scrum Master. The competencies and skills are very different.
  • Certifications can help highlight potential Scrum Master candidates, but you shouldn't make decisions solely based on them.
  • When interviewing or evaluating a potential Scrum Master candidate, consider the following questions:
  1. Is the candidate a good listener?

  2. Is the candidate a good facilitator?

  3. Can the candidate be passively authoritative?

  4. Does the candidate have good communication skills?

  5. Can the candidate pick up subtle signals?

This article originally appeared in Breathe Agile on August 2016.

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Topics:
agile project managament ,scrum master

Published at DZone with permission of Ashwin Chandrasekaran. See the original article here.

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.

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