My Journey to Gaining the PSPO-I & PSM-I Certification

As an experienced Product Owner, I didn’t think Scrum Certification was necessarily something I needed. That was until I heard about the Professional Scrum Product Owner (PSPO) certification. When I looked at the website and saw the list of Professional Scrum Competencies and the main focus areas of assessment for the certification, I knew it was for me.

A Revived Passion for Scrum

Working in a Scrum Team, I was already familiar with the Scrum Guide as there were times when I had to cover some Scrum Master duties. However, I thought I would revisit the guide to make myself aware of the latest changes. In previous versions, I had felt that some aspects were too prescriptive but I was pleasantly surprised to see that in the 2020 guide, the writers seemed to share my sentiments and wanted to go back to Scrum’s roots as a framework.

I looked into the revision history to explore the reasoning behind the changes and, just like Scrum itself is based on empiricism and therefore inspection and adaptation, it seems that the writers also used empiricism. They inspected the multitude of Scrum uses that now exist compared to at its inception and adapted accordingly.

The beauty of Scrum is that it uses an agile approach based on lean thinking and provides a framework that doesn’t exclude any of the other agile approaches being used alongside it for development or management. The latest revision of the Scrum Guide has become a lot more inclusive by being far less prescriptive and has removed references to particular industries or types of work it previously associated itself with. As a Product Owner, I appreciate it even more now as a framework to that delivers valuable solutions to complex problems.

With this revived interest, I began studying the focus areas from the Professional Scrum Competencies list and found a lot of great information that also showcased Scrum usage in practice and its efficacy when used correctly. I decided I wanted to become an advocate for Scrum and convince others of its continued value, who, like myself, may have previously had doubts about it.

Firstly, I felt the certification would give me the credibility to do this successfully. Secondly, I also wanted to validate my own understanding of the value of Scrum. My final reason was that it would give potential customers confidence in my knowledge and could be an added selling point. These three arguments were what convinced management to support me with the PSPO-I assessment fee.

Studying Scrum

Now it was time to pass the exam! I went through the Scrum Guide multiple times and paid particular attention to four main things.

  1. What was considered mandatory versus optional?

  2. Who participates in events versus those who just attend?

  3. Who is accountable versus responsible for the various artifacts and commitments?

  4. What specific words were removed or replaced?

Once I began taking free open assessments, I noticed I was getting caught out by a few things even though my understanding at this point was sound. After reviewing my results I realized that the time pressure was causing me to slip up on easy questions I had rushed through to give me more time for the more difficult ones. My common errors fell into two categories:

  1. When I was asked for multiple answers, I missed one. This was an easy fix by getting into the habit of always double-checking the exact number requested.

  2. When presented with similar-looking terms I selected the incorrect one by accident e.g. Scrum Master versus Scrum Team.

During my practice, I also got caught out by some tricky questions which presented answers that sounded plausible to me as a long-time Agile practitioner. The key I found here was to be aware of Agile terms versus Scrum terms, so it is vital to have the Scrum Glossary and Scrum Guide from open so you can refer to them at the end for any hard questions you may have bookmarked.

Looking Ahead: The Road to Scrum Master

Finally, I am thrilled to say that I took the PSPO-I assessment and I received a passing grade of 100%. I had studied hard, understood the Scrum Guide, followed my own tips above, and have now been approved to take the PSPO-II assessment which I will be taking in the coming months.

However, I also wanted to test my knowledge in the Professional Scrum Master (PSM) area, as I believe that if I encounter a Scrum Master working from outdated information or applying Scrum incorrectly due to misconceptions, they will take my suggestions more seriously if I approach them as a PSM rather that a PSPO. So, I decided to take the PSM-I assessment independently. I was confident that I would pass but to my surprise and delight, I received 100%. Again, I put this down to following the same method from the PSPO exam and I hope that some of these tips will help others too.

I am grateful that intive values continuous improvement, embraces a growth mindset and is so willing to invest in the learning and development necessary to support the team. I was also encouraged by my manager to share my learnings and present these tips to my colleagues across the organization during our Agile-Lean Lightning Talks. This allowed me to hone my presentation skills for a different audience from what I was normally used to.

Knowledge sharing is something that is core to improvement as it fosters a safe environment where anyone can ask for help and feel comfortable doing so. It’s a privilege to be able to offer something to our Agile-Lean community and to hopefully empower others to get their certification too.

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