The agile methodology is one of the most widely used project management processes in the world. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. To keep an agile project on track, from concept all the way through to shipping, an agile coach is often an essential member of the team.
An agile coach will be expected to have a deep understanding of the agile methodology and be able to leverage that experience to provide advice, support, and guidance to team members throughout development. The result? A more motivated team and a better final product. And that’s a win-win for everybody.
So, if you’re looking to step into the shoes of the agile coach at a new company, or hoping to move into the role internally, there’s a lot you need to know to land the job — and preparation is key.
But no pressure! With our comprehensive guide to the 10 most important enterprise agile coach interview questions (and their answers), you’ll be ready for whatever the interviewer throws at you.
1: “What is a sprint?”
Sometimes the simplest of questions are the most powerful.
In this case, the simple question “What is a sprint?” is a bit of a red herring.
In reality, the interviewer probably isn’t angling for the “correct” answer, straight from the Agile Manifesto — after all, that should be a given for anyone with agile experience. What they’re really doing is looking for applicants who can articulate exactly what it takes to be a great agile team.
To save time, an interviewer may ask this zinger early on during an agile coach interview.
Get it wrong, and you might find that the interview is cut short.
Get it right, though, and you’ve passed the first test… but it’s not over yet.
2: “How would you go about choosing the length of a sprint?”
As an agile coach, part of your job will be planning and deploying the agile methodology — from the big picture to the fine detail.
While many development teams already have established processes, implementing a new one creates an opportunity to make changes. One such change an interviewer might challenge you on is the length of a sprint. After all, sprints are the building blocks of the methodology and have an impact on every aspect of product development.
So, what will it be? 3 weeks? 4 weeks? Even longer?
This question is less about the answer you give, and more about how you get there. To help you out, here are a few influencing factors, each of which are worth bearing in mind as you contemplate your response:
- Sprints need deliverables. Setting a sprint too short will result in frustration and no tangible deliverable at the end. That leaves the team disheartened and the business falling behind.
- Sprints also need regular deliverables. The flipside of the above is a sprint that’s too long, which can result in feature-creep, scope changes, the “too many cooks” phenomenon, and a poorer end product.
- Sprints involve more than just dev work. Remember to consider everything other than the development work itself. Planning, stand-ups, demos — these things all take time, and that can impact your sprint length.
3: “Which agile processes have you used in the past and which do you find most effective?”
True, agile philosophies are the same across the board. But there are several different forms of agile development, and you may be required to cover a few of these in your agile coach interview.
Some you’ll have a natural understanding of through your practical experience, but it never hurts to have a passing familiarity with the others.
The most common agile process used in modern software development is probably the Scrum methodology, so you can almost certainly expect questions on this. But, during your interview prep, you should also take a look at Lean Software Development, Crystal, Feature Driven Development, Kanban, and any others you can find.
Don’t worry, your interviewer won’t (usually) expect you to have in-depth knowledge of more than one or two of these processes, but they’ll definitely be impressed if you’re familiar with them.
4: “What’s the difference between an agile coach and a Scrum Master?”
Understanding the role you’re applying for might seem like a given, but in technical fields like software development, that’s not always the way it goes.
Don’t be surprised if your interviewer tests your knowledge of the role by drawing direct comparisons with similar roles in the industry. The most common of these in the context of an agile coach interview is likely to be the Scrum Master.
Not sure how to delineate the differences? We’ve got you covered:
A Scrum Master is a dedicated resource for a single team when working with the scrum agile framework. The role of the Scrum Master is to ensure that the process and principles of scrum are being followed during development and to support individuals within the team.
An Agile Coach is a dedicated resource for the entire organization. They take a macro view of the agile development process and how it’s deployed within the business. An agile coach is not focused on just one team, but rather all teams who are working within the methodology.
5: “How do you manage changing requirements in the middle of development?”
This question might initially throw you off a little bit, but what it’s really doing is exploring your understanding of the agile ethos itself.
Managing changing requirements is an everyday occurrence in software development. Even at a late stage in the process, if there’s enough evidence coming from customer feedback and research, changes may need to be made. As the agile coach, it’s your job to ensure these changes can be adapted smoothly into your agile processes — and that the organization understands the value of adaptability. After all, it might seem counterintuitive to add, remove, or pivot features late in development, but the key point is that it’s better to take the short-term pain for the long-term gain.
Explaining the management of changing requirements in a clear, concise, and compelling way is a key skill for any agile coach.
6: “Let’s imagine some of your teams dislike retrospectives and they always devolve into blaming one another. How would you handle this?”
Retrospectives are an essential ingredient for successful deployment of the agile methodology. Without them, hard-learned lessons are lost and mistakes can be repeated over and over again.
Some teams working the agile model may feel that retrospectives are opportunities to blame others — to point fingers about what went wrong. This phenomenon is quite common, but it’s entirely missing the point.
If your interviewer poses a scenario in which teams dislike retrospectives, the best approach is to reframe the concept. Retrospectives aren’t about the individual, they’re about the team. They’re not about one worker’s performance, but rather the progress made towards the end goal: the final product.
As an agile coach, you need to strike the fine balance between personalities and teamwork, and the retrospective is often where such divisions make themselves known. But it’s your opportunity to improve the process, too.
7: “What is your experience managing agile transformation?”
It’s not always a given that the company hiring for an agile coach already has the agile methodology up and running.
In fact, in many cases, an agile coach is one of the first hires made to begin what’s known as the “agile transformation”. This essentially refers to a fundamental shift in development approach from another framework — usually a form of waterfall development — to agile.
If you’re asked at interview about your experience in agile transformation, the most important thing you want to convey is your deep understanding of the process. Not just how it works day-to-day, but also how it’s applied to an organization as a whole. This includes everything from setting up specific processes (like tracking sprints via Jira) to helping individuals better understand agile and how it will help them in their role.
8: “How would you deal with a team who resists the agile methodology?”
Leading nicely on from our previous question, it’s only natural that some members of a team may resist the introduction of the agile framework.
After all, the status quo is a hard thing to break. But, as an agile coach, it’s really up to you to manage, educate, and calm the concerns of a transitioning team.
If this question comes up in your agile coach interview, be sure to focus not just on the practical considerations of a shift to agile, but also how important it is to fully complete the transformation. Agile-resistant development teams have been known to deploy diluted or half-hearted versions of the agile methodology and, as any agile coach will tell you, it’s an all or nothing game.
Managing agile-resistant teams is about helping them understand the end goal, why it will benefit them as individuals, and why it’s so important to be “all-in” as the organization makes the jump.
9: “How would you assist a team member who is dropped into the agile methodology for the first time?”
Making the move to an agile development environment can be daunting.
One of the biggest shifts is that individual team members may essentially be left to their own devices during a sprint, only to be held to account as the sprint ends. For some people, this change in working methodology can be a bumpy ride.
As the name suggests, it’s the role of the agile coach to assist team members who may be having trouble adapting to agile. If this question makes an appearance during your interview, you’re simply being assessed on your ability to manage individual concerns within a team context.
So how is it done? Here are a few pointers:
Help the team member understand that agile presents new opportunities for personal and professional growth. The trial-and-error nature of the sprint system means that developers can feel free to try something totally new — and that’s really fun!
Focus on the alignment of the team’s contributions to the overall goals of the company. When individuals can see the results of the work they’ve done in action, their motivation will naturally increase.
10: “How would you manage overlapping iterations?”
As we’ve seen, the agile methodology isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.
Each development team uses it in a slightly different way, and it’s up to the agile coach to adapt to this in each organization.
One particular topic which may come up is the question of overlapping iterations or sprints.
In a nutshell, this refers to a multi-team organization all working on different sprints at the same time. The lynchpin here is the timing of these sprints. If they’re not broadly aligned, you’ll find that some teams are finishing sprints while others are just starting, some are planning while others are holding retrospectives.
There’s nothing wrong with this approach at all, if the business is set up for it, but an interviewer for the agile coach role may ask you how you’d manage such a setup.
Don’t worry, it’s not a trick question. Just focus on the strategies you’d deploy to ensure team cohesion and motivation despite overlapping schedules.
That’s the agile coach job interview questions and answers taken care of — the rest is up to you
Nobody ever said landing the role of agile coach was easy. That’s probably because it’s not. But it is incredibly rewarding… for the right candidate.
If that’s you, these 10 agile coach interview questions (and answers) will serve as an excellent foundation to prepare for your interview. In the days leading up to your meeting, don’t be afraid to build on what we’ve covered here. Swot up, geek out, and immerse yourself in all things agile (you’ll find plenty more insights on our blog, too!).
From there, take the knowledge you’ve built and channel it into your interview responses on the big day, with confidence and expertise.
You’ve got this! Best of luck.