How to Hire a great Scrum Master

I’ve been asked this question today on twitter and I thought to myself “man, there’s a book to be written here”. Unfortunately I’m a writing a book on some other topics, so I can only dedicate some time to share advice with you on the this one but, hey, we could make a meme out of this. :-)

First of all, you have to understand what’s the role of the Scrum Master. Serious. A lot of people will agree that the Scrum Master is responsible for delivery dates, controlling the project, reporting progress or making individual performance reports to management. Think twice. A good start is to read the Scrum Guide and some other resources on the topic. Long story short, for me the Scrum Master is responsible for success in the long term: making the team more efficient, raising it’s performance, improving their quality of life and creating an Agile culture in the whole company. Oh, and not to forget coaching the Product Owner.

Next, you have to make an assessment of your team and decide what kind of Scrum Master you are looking for. Scrum Masters come in various flavours, and they tend to shift with time. I have some slides on the topic of the evolution of the Scrum Master from “the Scrum Guy” to “Agile Coach”, including stages “Scrum Mom” and “True Scrum Master”:

If your team is immature in terms of Agility, they’ll need a Scrum Mom for a while, but be sure that the Scrum Master is able to evolve into a True Scrum Master and then Agile Coach when the team itself matures.

But let’s go back to the topic: how to hire a good Scrum Master? I think there are three main areas you want to explore when interviewing:

  • Technical: this person understands Software Development. Is familiar with technology, has read on patterns, clean code, QA, architecture, technical debt, versioning… Knows the Way of Working of programmers, understands that software is not a matter of “Man Hours”.
  • Human: this person is a good human being. His empathy is high and knows how to deal with conflict and sell ideas to management and clients. He is a superb and enthusiastic communicator, a great story teller. He cares about motivation and knows how to motivate his team. He is a loving and compassionate person, but 100% uncompromising when it comes to personal improvement and self development.
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  • Agile: this person understands the roots, values, principles and essence of Agile Sofwtare Development. Knows about Lean, eliminating waste, focusing on value delivery, small batch production, frequent delivery of working software, adapting to change… He is never comfortable with the “Status Quo” and is always looking for the next improvement. He has a lot of different ways to run a retrospective. He knows about Agile technical practices and tools and how to introduce them to the team, including pair programming, test/acceptance test/behaviour driven development, continuous integration, collective code ownership, coding standards…

Ideally you’ll search for the three of them, but if you have to settle for two, I’d go technical + human: they can learn the Agile thing later. Human-Agile is also a good choice (try to train them on the technical side), but I’ll never go for Technical-Agile (a.k.a. Agile Zealots): they’ll have a very long and difficult path becoming better persons. ;-)

Also, here are some characteristics of great Scrum Masters I’ve known:

  • Humble: big names on the Agile world usually make great consultants or part-time coaches, but when it comes to hiring a full-time Scrum Master is a good thing to look for a humble person.
  • Reads a lot: specially about Agile & Software Development. This includes blogs, books, twitter
  • In fact, many great Scrum Masters are very active in the Agile community. You could ask what conferences, open spaces or community events this person has attended over the last year, for example.
  • Certified. Yes, I know: the two-day certification by itself means nothing (please, don’t hire a Scrum Master because he is certified), but it’s very usual for good Scrum Masters I’ve known to have engaged some certification class in the past.
  • Likes to play. Great Scrum Masters know how to enjoy a retrospective and put their team to play and have a great time while learning and improving. The “we are serious guys and this is called work” guys seldom make good Scrum Masters.
  • Take notes on a notebook. A paper one. And likes to draw, although he may not be that good at drawing. You can call this a long-shot, but my guts have a good feeling about guys that use pen and paper on a daily basis – it tells a lot about their right side of the brain :-)

Last but not least, some activities you could try while interviewing this person:

  • Let the team interview him (and act at your own risk if you hire him despite the team said “we don’t like this guy”).
  • Let him conduct a short retrospective (over one single topic, for example)
  • Ask him to make an Agile Assessment of your organization through some interviews with project managers and developers
  • Take him to a Kanban / Scrumban board and ask him for some possible improvements

In fact, I’d love to hear about your own tips&tricks for hiring great Scrum Masters (if you blog about it, please link to this article so I can read you :-) – Oh, if you skip the touchy-feely stuff I’d be very pleased :-D

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10 Responses to How to Hire a great Scrum Master

  1. Monika says:

    Additional bullet points which might be added to the last part:
    - ask him to participate (actively) in 1 or 2 daily scrums (if possible with 2 different teams)
    - invite him for a retrospective and ask for proposing a new way to make the meeting amazing for the team

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