Studying for Professional Scrum Master exam

Agile and certifications, is this a good match?  Usually agile supporters are proud to not be certified.

I don’t know, but at least several founders of Scrum seem to think it is. You have 2 big Scrum certification organisations:

  • Scrum Alliance, who have the Certified Scrum certifications (Master, Product Owner, Developer, Professional, Coach and Trainer).
    ScrumAlliancePath
  • Scrum.org, who have the Professional Scrum certifications (Masters, Developers and Product Owners). Scrum.org has 2 levels for almost each type, so there is a Professional Scrum Master I and II. (PSM I, PSM II). Likewise there is a PSPO I and II.  Only Professional Scrum Developer only has one level at the moment: PSD I.

What is the difference between the 2 organisations?  Well, I’m not involved in either of them, so I only know what I found out on the internet.  Time for some gossip: Scrum Alliance started first around 2002, but by 2009 Ken Schwaber had become extreme dissatisfied in it: the organisation he helped create was more interested in and dependant on the money coming in than in the mission.  So he founded Scrum.org. A longer description of this history is available (albeit a bit hidden) on the Scrum.org website.

The certifications of the Scrum Alliance do seem to go further. Especially the Scrum Coach and Trainer are not easy.  It is not just taking an exam, but demonstrate over 1500 hours of Scrum coaching with real client references.  So if you see a Certified Scrum Coach, you know that the customers were indeed satisfied with the word delivered. These certifications however are beyond my experience at the moment, so let’s focus on the Certified Scrum Master and Professional Scrum Master.

What is the difference between these certificates? Well, again, I only took the Professional Scrum Master assessment, so I know absolutely nothing about the Certified Scrum Master certificate.  However, I do know that it is possible to take the PSM assessment without having to follow a training, while this isn’t the case for the CSM. So that was one of my reasons for taking PSM I.  That both Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland are involved in Scrum.org seems to be another plus.

So, how to prepare for the assessment?

  • First step is to read the Scrum Guide. Don’t let the number of pages, 16,  fool you.  There is really a lot in it. But it is the basis for the assessment.  Everything that is assessed, is in this document! Although I must say I got a few extra questions on burndown charts for example. So do not only read it, but study it carefully. You should not only know that something is done or not, but also why, understand Scrum!
    Even though I had followed the Certified Agile Tester training (and give it also), I still found new things in it.
  • Learn more about Scrum best practices not described in the Scrum Guide. Not necessary for the assessment, but it helps to better understand why certain choices were made.
  • Try to gather some experience. More difficult since not every project is an Agile project, not every Agile project is a Scrum project and many ‘Scrum’ projects are ScrumBut projects. A ScrumBut project is of course not a good preparation for the assessment.
  • Take the Scrum Open Assessment.  These are only 30 questions (the assessment is 80 questions),  but there is a larger pool, so if you take it several times, you get a few more questions. Before you take the real assessment, you should get consistently at least 29 on the Open Assessment with time to spare. For extra insight it is useful to  take the Developer Open Assessment also several times. You need a Scrum.org account to be able to take the Open Assessments.
    I noticed several questions from the Open Assessment coming back in the real assessment.
  • Follow the suggested readings list for Scrum Master on Scrum.org. There are many good books available.  All of these can give you extra insights.

Then the assessment itself, is it difficult?

Not so much, I scored 95%. If you know Scrum and understand it, achieving the required 85% should be quite easy to do. I needed 25 minutes to go through all 80 questions. So that left me plenty of time to go back to the bookmarked questions.  Some needed indeed some adjustment, but in the end I could finish easily in time.

So, does this prove I am now a good Scrum Master?

Of course not, no multiple choice exam can prove that. Just like ISTQB Foundation doesn’t prove that you are a good tester.  It only proves that you know the terminology, some techniques, have an understanding of risks, etc.  Prove that you are a good tester? That can only be done on the job.

Likewise, this certificate does prove that I know Scrum. And perhaps also that I can apply it. Doing this on a real project, with real people/organizational/time issues and constraints, that’s the next challenge!