Top 5 interview questions to ask agile project managers

Manager holding a binder

Companies looking to make their processes more efficient should look no further. Agile project management methodologies, when employed by an adept agile project manager, can make your organization more prosperous, efficient, and collaborative.

Small startups looking to scale their operations rely on agile methodologies to stay competitive. To produce software in a timely and cost-effective way requires strategic, long-term thinking. Agile project managers use agile principles to guide their thinking and lead their team to quality code and success.

If you want to hire an agile project manager, you’ll need the best interview questions to assess their abilities. Here are the top 5 interview questions to ask an agile project manager candidate.

1. How would you explain agile?

Agile is flexible and open to interpretation. Remember this when you’re interviewing a project manager candidate. Agile is a project management framework that relies on iterative development to produce quality end products. 

Essentially, agile is an approach that focuses on producing working software, collaborating openly, and optimizing processes. Collaboration is more highly valued than any specific set of tools, processes, or technical specifications.

A more in-depth answer may include other facets of agile principles. Project managers may note that agile teams embrace change, even late in development, and value working software over extensive documentation. 

2. What is your experience as an agile project manager?

The interviewee should touch upon their years of experience, their education, and the tools they’ve used in the past. Also, agile project managers should disclose what kind of products they’ve worked on and if they worked in any specialized or niche industry.

An agile manager may have experience as a certified scrum master, or perhaps have familiarity with certain tools such as Trello, Jira, or Kanbanize.

Listen closely to how their history is detailed. Do they own up to mistakes and take responsibility for the team? Have they pulled through in past projects? Good project managers are adept at self-assessment, so be sure to take note of their skill in this area as they answer this question.

3. What does a sprint accomplish?

A sprint is a time frame that is allotted to accomplish a goal. Sprints are usually a month or less. The most popular sprint length is approximately two weeks. 

At the beginning of a sprint, the product owner sets a goal. The goal is broken up into tasks and assigned to the agile team. 

Ideally, the team finishes each task and accomplishes the goal within the time limit. At the end of the sprint, the team holds a mini-retrospective about their processes and performance before moving on to the next sprint.

Sprints help deal with the complexity of important projects. By setting goals for every two weeks are so, the team has clear objectives to follow, keeping everyone on track and motivated.

4. How do you measure a project’s progress?

The primary measure of progress is the delivery of working software. Documentation, meetings, revisions -- these are meaningless without a working product. 

With agile teams, software is released iteratively. More functionality and features are added as the project progresses. Bugs, issues, and design flaws are worked out as the team develops and releases early versions of the product. Feedback is also used to improve the product.

5. What does a burndown chart show?

Burndown charts help teams visualize productivity and pace. On the Y-axis the amount of remaining tasks is plotted, on the X-axis is the time remaining. Ideally, a burndown chart will show a steady trajectory downward. Backlogged tasks should dwindle significantly as the days go by. 

Project managers use burndown charts to analyze team efficiency and remove inefficiencies. Any bottlenecks or interruptions should be easy for an experienced eye to spot using a burndown chart.

(Image: © Image Credit: Rawpixel / Pexels)

Agile is one of the most successful project management frameworks for software development teams. Picking an agile project manager is absolutely critical to your project’s success. Therefore, you must be sure to include the most useful and insightful interview questions in your hiring process.

Ask agile project managers to tell you what agile means to them -- in their own words. Talk about their experience, the tools they’ve used, and the successes and failures they’ve encountered. They should emphasize the importance of delivering working software and have no trouble elucidating what sprints are and how burndown charts work.

Every agile project manager has a different take on the agile philosophy. To find an agile project manager that is the right fit for your organization will take more than these interview questions. Make certain that the candidate you choose to bring on board is not only qualified but is also a team player and a cultural fit.

 Ellie Martin is co-founder of Startup Change