Here is Part II of Stefan Wolpers article about peer recruiting and the scrum master role. Did you miss Part I? Check it out here!
7. Have a Trial Day
Given my holistic view on being agile, a trial day for a Scrum Master should not merely focus on basic Scrum mechanics. If you do that, you might risk ending up choosing someone who is comfortable with “doing Agile by the book”. (Whatever book that is…)
Hence, the purpose of the trial day is in my eyes to get an empirical understanding how the future Scrum master can support the whole organization in becoming (more) agile. The three main areas, I focus trial days on, are as follows:
This is the simple part. Good exercises for hands-on learnings are:
A. UNDERSTANDING THE CURRENT STATUS OF THE TEAM
Have an introductory session with the complete team, a kind of “ask me anything” session for the candidate. A simple questionnaire will do the job, for example: 20 Questions a New Scrum Master Should Ask Her Team to Get up to Speed..
B. RUNNING A RETROSPECTIVE
Ask the candidate to run a retrospective with the team in question. 30 minutes to prepare for the exercise should be more than generous. Actually, I would expect a seasoned Scrum Master to have prepared retrospectives at hands. (Retromat offers a wealth of exercises to choose from, see also: How to Curate Retrospectives with Retromat.
By “retrospective” I am not referring to the basic “good, bad, and 2 actions items” 30 min version. I would expect something a bit more sophisticated along the lines of Esther Darby’s and Diana Larsen’s book: “Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great”.
C. CREATING A DASHBOARD WITH AGILE METRICS
Visualizations are key to stakeholder communication, and I believe the Scrum master should take care of collecting data, aggregating information, and finally providing the gained knowledge in a way that helps the organization grow.
In this exercise, the candidate would be asked to create an initial version of such a dashboard and start collecting the first data. Typical metrics, that are easily available by questionnaires or polls are:
- Team happiness,
- Perceived value delivered to customers during the last sprint,
- Perceived current level of technical debt,
- The agile health level in the organization:
- The Scrum checklist of Henrik Kniberg works fine for this purpose
- Alternatively, the ‘State of Agile’ Checklist for Your Organization
- Last, but not least, Team velocity as well as a burn-down chart are both particularly well suited to better understand the candidate’s mindset of being agile.
Note: Acquiring stakeholder feedback on the level of appreciation of the production delivery organization will most likely not be possible on a trial day.
The Product Organization
Good exercises for the product organization are:
1. UNDERSTANDING THE CURRENT STATUS OF THE TEAM FROM THE PRODUCT OWNER’S PERSPECTIVE
Have an interview with the Product owner on the current situation from her perspective. Again, a simple questionnaire will do job. For example, 20 Questions from New Scrum Master to Product Owner.
A good candidate will be prepared for that interview, and provide her ideas how to she can contribute to improve the agile product discovery and delivery process.
2. PARTICIPATING IN A BACKLOG REFINEMENT
The candidate should participate in a backlog grooming session, helping the team to improve the product backlog of the product owner—garbage in, garbage out, right? The candidate should demonstrate best grooming practices during the exercise, addressing for example:
- How to deal with large product backlogs,
- Bill Wake’s INVEST principle to create user stories,
- How to handle acceptance criteria (for example, use Gherkin…)
- The whole estimation vs. estimates process: estimation poker, knowledge transfer, #noestimates, predictability as an agile key metric.
A good candidate can ask the right question during refinement session without having detailed knowledge about the product backlog itself. Handling the process and its principles are in the focus of this exercise.
3. STAKEHOLDERS AND THE ORGANIZATION BEYOND THE PRODUCT & ENGINEERING
This part of the trial day assesses the future Scrum master’s communication capabilities. “Selling” the product and engineering organization to stakeholders and the rest of the organization is a not just a valuable, but an essential trait to either further an agile transition or maintain its dynamic.
It will be particularly important in organizations with silos and legacy command and control structures outside of the product and engineering organization. Or in fast-growing startups with a lack of organizational structure to begin with, particularly when those are sales- or marketing-driven.
The task for the candidate will be to design a basic communication strategy with stakeholders that is suited to support transparency, interaction, and collaboration. (Read more on this topic here: 10 Proven Stakeholder Communication Tactics during an Agile Transition.)
A worthwhile trial day usually requires a full working day, as well as the attention of the whole team. Which is a pretty significant investment, so, choose the candidates carefully.
Tip: Invite the candidate—as well as the whole team—for lunch. It will be pretty much impossible for her to play a role for 60 minutes, when interacting socially with several other people at the same time. Having food together brings out the true colors…
Note: Menlo Innovations takes the trial process even a bit further: “So we bring people in and get them to speed date with our own staff. The question is always: would you like to work with this person? If the answer is yes, then we bring them in to work with us for a day, then a week and then a month. If the answer is still, “Yes, I would like to work with this person,” then they are hired.”
8. Gather Feedback from the Team the Day after the Trial Day
Collect the feedback from the team members the day after the trial day with a simple questionnaire:
- “How would you rate the candidate’s competence level on a scale from:
- 1 [Awesome!] to
- 6 [Thanks, but no thanks.]”
- “Did the candidate do anything to impress you positively?” (Free text field.)
- “Did the candidate do anything to impress you negatively?” (Free text field.)
- “Would you consider working with the candidate as your new teammate?” Three options:
- Don’t know
- “Should we make the candidate an offer? Three options:
- Don’t know
If the feedback is not unanimous, it is HR’s task to take over. Either by entering the contract negotiation, or provide the negative feedback from the team, and continue the search.
If the feedback is not unanimous, the team should discuss—under the moderation from HR—whether the differences are surmountable or not. In the latter case, the candidate should not be forced upon the team. The team always has a veto right.
III. Scrum Master Certifications—A Necessity?
What about Scrum master certifications, Scrum Alliance’s CSM, for example?
“I congratulate Ken Schwaber on his well oiled business of scrum training large parts of the industry (me included) but I believe that he doesn’t honestly believe a two day training is enough either.”
“Modern Scrum is a certification-laden minefield of detailed practises and roles. To legitimately describe oneself as a Scrum Master or Product Owner involves an expensive two day certification class taught by someone who in turn took an eye-wateringly expensive Scrum Trainer class, from one of the competing factions of “Professional” or “Certified” (but ironically not both) schools of Scrum training”.
As both Jilles and Dan mention, the agile-industrial complex feeds its followers well. Nevertheless, it’s fallacy to believe that two or three days of Scrum training will be even remotely successful in teaching the participants about Scrum.
Scrum is a framework to begin with, easy to understand, but hard to master. Scrum needs to be adapted to each organization depending on its culture, size, or the kind and maturity of its products, just to name a few aspects of this process.
So, a training—leading to a CSM or equivalent certificate—can only cover the smallest common (Scrum) denominator of all organizations: Artefacts, meetings and procedures. All issues that make a transition to agile complex and hard to master need to be experienced first hand. You cannot compensate a lack of experience by applying a dogmatic process to the letters of a book. That results in cargo cult Scrum.
Therefore, a Scrum Master certificate is more of a personal branding or advertising than a sign of expertise. However, I don’t blame smart people for rising to the occasion and satisfying the corporate demand for agile management methodologies by creating a certification standard. (Or enhancing their LinkedIn profiles with the right search terms, as I did myself.)
If your organization shall become agile, switching the hiring process to peer recruiting will be a necessity. It won’t make HR obsolete but its role will change to facilitating others choosing the right candidates. HR will thus become a change agent, contributing to the agile transition of the organization.
Trying to stick with the traditional command and control process on the other side would signal everyone with an agile mindset that your organization isn’t agile, but merely “doing Agile”.
And why would a true talent want to join you then?
Please share your own experience in the comments.