Roleplay – A different take on a scrum master interview.

With those shady mentoring and coaching techniques, a good scrum master can vastly improve the team performance, happiness, output quality, etc. despite not having any executive power.

A “good” scrum master is a very broad term, however. What is good for you?

Aaaaand this is where it gets tricky… Any senior scrum master is more or less able to say the things that are expected of him during the interview. Experience is important, but it’s not enough. It’s how he or she APPLIES the skills, experience and knowledge that matters.

Do you want a shark, that will deal with problematic team members/stakeholders/managers? Do you need someone systematic to help you with discipline? Or do you want a psychologist with a lot of empathy? …

When choosing the right scrum master, try to understand the situation you are in and look for the signs that are important to you.

Id like to share with you one of the best ways to find out what the new guy is all about, I have ever witnessed. Shout out to the agilists at Mavenir! This is what we did…

The Essence

We invited our potential new colleagues to play a little role-playing game with us. It was a 45 minutes long retrospective scenario where we displayed pretty much every anti-pattern out there and observed how the interviewed fare.

The Task

This text was shared with the interviewed: „Our team just wrapped up the last sprint. We had a lot of issues though – Top priority stories were not delivered, requirements changed during the sprint, the release was botched, unwanted features, … Our old scrum master went insane, you are our new scrum master, this is your first day and our first retrospective together, deal with it.

They had 10 minutes, if needed, to prepare and ask questions.

The Script

The second part of the text was NOT shared with the interviewed and was only for us (Interviewers) to guide us through the process. It outlined the roles we played in the simulation. Personas, with their own little characteristics, issues and interactions. We even chose different names!

Since we were in a fairly resistant and difficult environment, we reflected this fact in our simulation. We were looking for someone who can take some heat, not crumble, and “sell” the agility to people that often do not want to hear about it.

  • A PO who doesn’t care or know whats going on as long as things are done (I usually played this character, loved it! 🙂 )
  • Someone that is always on home office, not doing much, or doing something out of sprint
  • An agile supporter with a lot of enthusiasm but also with a lot of stupid points for the retro such as “the coffee is too strong, and the sun is shining on my keyboard from the right side, I think it would be better from the left side)
  • There was an „alpha“ developer that hated any agile, disrespected his colleagues and only wanted to work, but always delivered everything perfectly on time.
  • A guy that always has the right answer but never speaks, unless asked
  • … go nuts, I’m sure you will think of many more cool personas.

The Results

It is borderline IMPOSSIBLE to pretend, be dishonest or mask your „true you“ when thrown into this role-play. Even if you try, you won’t be able to keep it up for long.

By the way, not only is this brutally effective… It’s so much fun as well!

Both, the preparation as well as the execution, is the perfect teambuilding exercise for any group (in our case scrum masters).

Watching my former boss in the role of the alpha techie giving the first contribution to the retrospective: “Everything is fine, can I F**k off now?” Or the agile enthusiast with his poker face suggestion that “The sun problem should be resolved because his grandmother thinks it would boost his effectivity“ were the highlights of my career! 🙂

Oh and by the way, I admit that it sounds horrible for the one who is being interviewed, but most of the people who went through this exhausting thing actually thanked us for the experience of a lifetime… while drinking about 3 litres of water. Interesting.

Hope this helps,



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