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I hope this is the right place for a question like this, but I am wondering what do/should organizations look for when hiring Scrum Masters or Agile Coaches?

This question is only for people who have actually been involved in recruiting Scrum Masters.

To make this a bit more productive, let's work with a persona. Let's assume there is a guy with 5 years of project management experience, including waterfall and agile. This person has relevant degrees and a number of industry certifications such as CSM and PSM.

So on paper, the person is clearly qualified to be a Scrum Master.

My specific question then is:

List 3 most important things you would look for and explain what questions you would ask to validate those 3 things.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Todd A. Jacobs Aug 4 '17 at 20:24

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • A similar question (pm.stackexchange.com/questions/20130/…) was closed for being too broad - yours may suffer the same fate, but that question got some good answers on it. I'd add that especially with how many people get certified, try to focus less on the mechanics of Scrum and more on the reasons behind them. – Daniel Aug 4 '17 at 11:56
  • I don't think it is too broad. Some answers suit broad bullet point lists and that is why SE encourages them occasionally. – Venture2099 Aug 4 '17 at 12:25
  • I made an effort to make it quite specific; we have a persona and I ask for 3 specific questions. – Muhammad Aug 4 '17 at 12:50
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    While there's a good underlying question here, this is fundamentally a list-generating question. When you ask List 3 most important things you would look for and explain what questions you would ask to validate those 3 things you create a question where every possible answer is valid if it contains 3 items and a validation check. If this question can be rewritten to be less of an opinion poll where many answers are potentially correct, then it may be reopened by the community. – Todd A. Jacobs Aug 4 '17 at 20:26
  • I take your point but PM is not a hard science and quite subjective by nature, so most questions, except for those related to particular tools, will always result in answers that are often mostly valid. The idea was to allow experienced recruiter share their answers so others can benefit. – Muhammad Aug 7 '17 at 16:22
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I would ask them 3 key questions to highlight their genuine knowledge over and above certifications. These are the three questions I ask every new SM in our organisation.

1. What came first, Agile or Scrum?

90% of respondents will say Agile. They believe that Agile is a "thing", a framework, a methodology or an approach. They believe Scrum and Kanban and others were a result of Agile.

That is incorrect. Most frameworks and tactics existed long before the Agile values were enshrined in the Agile Manifesto. If they cannot answer this correctly (and you should be able to as well) then it is not a definite blocker but it is a yellow flag.

It normally means I have to coach them to see frameworks as a big bag of tools; a buffet of mental models. Once they get that they can select most appropriate micro or macro tool to unlock delivery regardless of the official guide.

2. If I understand Systems Thinking can I understand Scrum, if so, why?

The basic answer is that almost every iterative framework can trace it's genesis back to Japan and Taichi Ohno in some form or another.

Which means that arguing about Lean Six Sigma versus Scrum is like arguing about the New Testament versus the Old. They are all the same Genesis and all broadly seek to achieve the same aim; continual delivery of business value through the reduction of inefficiency. Some focus more on root cause analysis but in general if you subscribe to one framework you are really subscribing to them all. I have heard actual Scrum Masters refer to Kanban as dumb, inferior etc and tout Scrum as the one true way. That is the enemy of Agile thinking.

3. Can you give me genuine examples of how the Scrum Values translate into every day life in a Feature Team

You are looking for specifics. An easy way to identify an academic Scrum Master is to probe for how they work daily at the tactical level. An example might be I RESPECT the Scrum ceremony by not bringing my laptops and typing during Sprint Planning;

Example of Scrum Value Commitment Example of Scrum Value Respect

Summary

If my mind, you should not only seek to hire a Scrum Master. You are should hire a person tasked with building great engineering teams, strong iterative ethos and frequent deliveries of value.

Scrum is one way of doing that and you want to make sure that any Scrum Master you hire shares that same mindset. A Scrum zealot will sink your organisation as fast as a 10,000 line MSP plan.

Amateur Scrum Teams argue about tactics. Professionals study integration.

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Being a Scrum Master (and Scrum itself) has little to do with project management. If anything, I would disfavor a strong PM background.

The popular certifications are easy to obtain, and by themselves hold little value.

So what is valuable?

  • A solid grounding in systems and lean thinking as pertains to the domain of work (e.g. software product development)

  • Coaching skills

  • Experience working in, and preferably exercising leadership in, a highly collaborative team (any kind of team - volunteer, whatever)

You might begin by asking:

  • What metrics do you see as valuable to software product development?

  • Tell me about a time you coached someone, and what the outcomes were

  • What's a significant impact you've had on the way your team works?

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