Agile-Scrum Interview Questions to a Company from a Candidate

I recently went for a job interview with a company and wanted to know how evolved they were with respect to agile practices. So using the Agile manifesto I created a series of questions to ask them in the interview to rank how evolved they were in following Agile/Scrum processes.

I think if you are looking at your own company you could use these as a method to judge your own progress in your journey into Agile/Scrum.

Below is listed each Principle follow by the question i asked.

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

How do you do you do a release? Do you hand over to another team for releases? Do you practice continuous delivery?

With the rise of Dev Ops, pushing releases should be easy these days, if you have a complex process in place for pushing releases to live, it might be a sign that you need change.

How I’ve seen people try to justify complex release and release/approval process before is when you have critical systems that any sort of downtime will have a large business impact. You will hear them say things like “We work in E-Commerce, any minute offline is lost money” or “We are in finance, one wrong number could cost us large amounts of money”. These statements are true, but in an evolved company you have things implemented such as A/B testing, tests that run in the deployment process to verify applications on an inactive node before live traffic is cut over to. AWS’s Elastic Beanstalk out of the box will run you up a new set of servers in the deployment process that tests can be preformed on before a DNS cut over is done and the old environment completely shut down.

While you do need to take into account the context, there is few companies I have seen that could not aim for continuous delivery.

Zero-Downtime deployment, and Continuous delivery are the two key words that give you a big tick here.

Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage

How do you handle change in requirements after development work has started, or finished?

If they tell you that they have “Change Requests” that’s a sure sign they aren’t following Agile/Scrum process.

Another common mistake I see people do is track this and report on it so they can “improve planning”, while I am not saying that you shouldn’t try to plan ahead where possible, trying this will give you a lot of false positives, because one of the theories of scrum is that “the customer doesn’t know what the right product is, until they’ve seen the wrong product”.

Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

How often do you release? How long roughly does it take you do do a release of your product?

Similar to the first question, releases should be done “on demand” by the team, if there is any hand over process in place, or senior management that needs to be involved beyond Acceptance testing in the demos then this might be a sign of problems.

Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project

Where do your requirements come from? Where are they stored? Who manages them? What contact does this person have with the team?

This question in summary is “Do you have product Owners? and are they doing their job?”. Product owners should have daily contact with the team, however having them in the same room might be too much. The company I went for the interview with has their Team, PO and scrum master all in the same desk cluster, I’m not sure about this 🙂

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

Who manages your teams and makes sure they are keeping focused day-to-day?

This is a loaded question. Unmotivated people need people to motivated them and don’t make for a good dev team.

The answer should be no one, because our teams are self-motivated and self organizing, our scrum master checks in with them daily to make sure they don’t have any impediments and keeps the team from distractions.

Do you have any regular reporting to upper management that needs to be done inside the sprint?

The answer here should be no, the measure of progress is working software, which is reported in the demo. There maybe reports to the business of a rolled up result of sprints, for example one feature make take 3 sprints to complete, so at the end of those 3 sprints some additional reporting needs to be done. But beware of anyone that says something like “The output of our daily stand-up on in the chat room is emailed to all senior managers in the business”, this means that there is a lack of trust in the organisation.

The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

Inquire about which ceremonies they conduct, Daily stand-up, retrospective, etc.

Is there any they don’t do? Is there any they do in a chat room? Where is the scrum master and product owner located? Does the team have easy access to them and vice versa?

In some teams that aren’t co-located this is difficult, but let me tell you from experience that video conferencing is the answer if you aren’t co-located.

While I think chat rooms are an important part of a modern team (Go download slack or hipchat now if you aren’t using them already, but don’t ask me which is better), they should NOT be used for your ceremonies. When you do a planning meeting and you are in the same office as someone you see and hear the emotion in their voice when they are talking, this is vital to good communications.

Also talking as opposed to typing lets people go off on tangents more easily, which generally leads to better innovation. The same is true of Stand ups, retrospectives and so on.

Working software is the primary measure of progress.

How do you measure progress of your dev team?

This one is pretty easy, if they say from the deployed running software then they get a tick.

Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

How often do you staff work overtime? is any weekend work required? if so how often?

If you have staff regularly working overtime or weekends, and this is accepted by the organisation, this is a sign that your pace is not sustainable. You will burn your staff out, they will look for new jobs.

Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.

This is hard to put into a single question, I would start with asking them where they are at with practices like:

  • Unit Testing
  • Test Automation
  • Do they use Dependency Injection
  • etc

These types of technology will change over time, but once you have an indication of where they are at, how do they improve? Good answers will be things like involvement in open source projects, user groups (VMWare, etc), partner programs (Microsoft, RedHat,etc) and so on.

One of the processes we used to use was “Friday Afternoon Channel9” each week the team members would take turns picking a video from MSDN Channel9 (and sometimes other sources) and we would all watch it together.

 

The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

Do you have team leaders or managers?

If you have a manager then you are not self organised. By the same token Leaders are bad too, a lot of people are astounded by this concept and would argue that leadership is a good thing.

If you promote leadership then you give your team a head that can be cut off, what happens when you leader goes on holiday for 3 weeks?

It also prevents your team from taking ownership if the are working under someones directions. You will end up with a product architected from a single persons view as opposed to the entire team. This also allows the team to say things such as “I was just doing what I was told”, your team needs to own their work, this in the long run will give them more job satisfaction as well.

In short, everyone on your team should be a leader, and the scrum master should be their to mediate any conflicts of direction.

Your scrum master should not be a member of the team also, he/she needs to be impartial to the team’s decisions to allow him/her to give good guidance. If your scrum master is a team member he will end up becoming a leader and you will have problems.

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

What is the most astounding changes one of your teams has proposed from a retrospective that you can remember?

A bit of a loaded question again. If you simply ask them “Do you do retrospectives” this won’t tell you much, what you need to be asking them is what impact their retrospectives have.

The answer to the above will give you an indication of if they are following the Scrum retrospective process and seeing a positive outcome from it.

One of the Keys of Scrum is Empirical Process Control, if the team is not in charge of themselves, then they do not own their actions, retrospectives is a key point in the team shaping their own direction.

 

 

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