A trend can be easily observed when reviewing Professional Scrum Master (PSM) certification materials (articles, blogs, notes, discussions, etc.): The quantity and quality of study and reference material decrease significantly when preparing for the PSM II.
Thus, it’s way more difficult to find valuable information, guidance and clarification on how to pass the PSM II compared to the PSM I. That can be partially explained by the fact that there are 138,104 PSM I holders and only 1,473 certified PSM II holders (as of March 31, 2018).
In this article, we’ll focus our attention on PSM II and answer the most critical questions that come up during the preparation for the assessment. I assume the reader has already passed the PSM I and is familiar with the information provided in the article “Art of Scrum Learning: Professional Scrum Master I.” So, let’s get started.
Do I need to have hands-on experience to pass the assessment?
The reality is you can have no experience at all and pass the assessment with 90% or above. There are no specific questions in PSM II that can be learned only in the “real world.” Moreover, experience that many Scrum Masters gain in their day-to-day activities sometimes can be harmful. That happens when the Scrum used in companies differs from Scrum in its purest form.
For example, John has two years of experience as a Scrum Master. In the organization where he works, every sprint review starts with a demo, and John has received clear understanding there can’t be a sprint review without a demo.
If John sees questions during his assessment that state, “Sprint review is a demo where development team shows an increment to stakeholders,” he might give a wrong answer. The correct response here will be, “It is when the Scrum team and stakeholders inspect the outcome of a sprint and figure out what to do next.”
I’m not saying that experience is bad but rather focus my attention on the idea of the assessment. The idea here is to understand Scrum the way Ken Schwaber sees it. Your experience can help you find the way around the scenario provided in the question, but the response should be given in accordance with Scrum theory.
Coming back to the years of experience, it’s common for professionals with at least one year of involvement in the role of Scrum Master to try to obtain their PSM II certification.
What do PSM II questions look like? Are they different from those in PSM I?
I wouldn’t say there’s a significant difference between PSM I and PSM II questions in terms of the knowledge you need to answer them correctly. The difference is more structural. The PSM I assessment is more oriented to junior Scrum Masters and professionals who are just starting to learn Scrum.
For that reason, questions in PSM I mostly challenge your understanding of Scrum as described in the Scrum Guide and the concepts of applying Scrum. That’s why in PSM I you see questions such as:
- Who is on the Scrum team? (answer: product owner, Scrum Master and development team)
- Refinement shouldn’t take more than 10% of development team capacity? (answer: true)
- When is the sprint over? (answer: when time-box expires)
The structure and format of these questions mostly checks your ability to quickly recall material contained in the Scrum Guide and apply your understanding of Scrum at a high level.
The PSM II assessment is slightly different. You won’t find straightforward questions there as the assessment is much more behavioral/situational. It requires a deeper level of understanding to apply Scrum to various scenarios. Let’s review an example of a possible PSM II question:
“Development team had some difficulties during sprint planning trying to select the work for the sprint backlog and estimate it. It took too long, and when the time-box for sprint planning expired, around 60% of cards in the sprint backlog weren’t refined to the appropriate level for team granularity. The team admitted they have a clear understanding of the selected cards, and they’ll be able to deliver an increment by the end of the sprint and reach the sprint goal. At the same time, the development team emphasized that refinement of those cards can take more that 10% of their capacity in the current sprint. You’re a Scrum Master for this team. What will you suggest the team do in this situation (choose one correct answer):
- Tell the team they’re not allowed to spend more than 10% of their capacity on refinement during the sprint.
- As a Scrum Master, one of your primary responsibilities is to remove impediments that prevent the team from delivering on the sprint goal. By telling them they can’t use more than 10% of their time on refinement, you artificially create an impediment that, as a Scrum Master, you’ll need to remove. Moreover, Scrum doesn’t say refinement can’t take more than 10% of the team’s capacity; it says it shouldn’t. What if the team uses 15% of their capacity on backlog refinement during this sprint and 5% during the following sprint? Will it still be Scrum? Yes, it will.
- Invite available developers from other teams to refine “unrefined” cards with the product owner while the development team is working on “ready” cards.
- It’s the development team that’s responsible for delivering an increment by the end of the sprint. They committed to the sprint goal, and it’s up to them to self-organize and determine how they’re going to reach it within the current team capacity.
- As a Scrum Master, find and provide the solution to the team on how to approach this situation.
- In addition to removing impediments, another responsibility of a Scrum Master is to ensure Scrum is understood and enacted within the team. The Scrum Master shouldn’t always provide the solutions for team issues, but rather coach them in finding the solution themselves.
- Coach the team and product owner on the necessity of backlog refinement and ask the team how they’re going to approach this situation while taking into consideration the necessity of achieving the sprint goal.
- That’s the correct response since it mentions direct Scrum Master activities, as well as team and product owner responsibilities on refinement. It’s the development team that should decide how they’re going to approach this situation to deliver an increment by the end of the sprint and reach the sprint goal.
As you can see, questions in PSM II are more scenario-based, where you need to understand the case and apply each of the responses to the defined scenario. Basically, the PSM II assessment forces you to read through each response and determine which details within each option don’t adhere to the underlying values of Scrum.
It’s not likely you can read a book, learn something by heart and find it in your PSM II assessment (as you can for PSM I). PSM II focuses on your overall understanding of Scrum and your ability to apply your knowledge (the way we just did) to real-world situations. That’s why many people say having real-world Scrum Master experience may help you pass this test.
How can I prepare for PSM II?
There are many areas that should be taken into consideration and, among them, I suggest paying attention to the following:
- PSM I essentials
- This is an overview of different resources that can be used for preparation for PSM I. It’s critical to be sure you’re confident with the following subject areas: Scrum Framework, Scrum Theory and Principles, Cross-Functional & Self-Organized Teams, and Coaching & Facilitation.
- Professional Scrum Master Training
- This class is a step up from Professional Scrum Foundations and more oriented toward future Scrum Masters. It covers the majority of activities Scrum Masters perform and helps identify weak areas of knowledge.
- Scrum Guide
- I know, you must have read it 100 times. Read it 100 times more. And take time to ensure you have a clear understanding of the underlying value and purpose of each sentence. The Scrum Guide is the source of all the knowledge; the difference is just the way people interpret it.
- You need to have a clear understanding of Scaling Scrum. I suggest reading the Nexus Guide, taking the Scaled Professional Scrum open assessment and attending the Scaled Professional Scrum with Nexus training. You might be surprised to find a question or two from this assessment in your PSM II test.
- Scrum values
- There aren’t too many Scrum values, but it’s essential to understand each of them and their role in Scrum. A good exercise will be to think about your team members’ behavior and try to understand whether their actions correspond/don’t correspond to one or more Scrum values. For example: “Development team was afraid to tell the product owner that the sprint goal seemed to be unachievable.” We’re talking about lack of courage here that affects openness.
- Agile Project Management with Scrum
- The structure of this book is very similar to how questions are structured on the PSM II. There are many real-world situations Ken Schwaber talks about and gives analysis of those events. Therefore, you’ll be able to see the big picture supported by very important details. You might want to pay attention to some financial aspects and the differences between fixed time/fixed budget and Agile projects.
- Product Owner/Product Backlog
- The concept of product ownership and backlog management are essential in Scrum. Even though PSM II is a Scrum Master certification, you’ll see a lot of questions directly or indirectly related to these concepts. “Agile Estimating and Planning” is an informative book that can help you find the answers you’re looking for.
- Scrum: A Pocket Guide
- I consider this book to be the best material for review. Please read it twice. The first time is when you start preparing for PSM II. Try to identify the questions you have, material that’s not very clear, areas of consideration, etc. Prepare, study, learn. Read it the second time when you think you’re ready for the exam. If you have no questions and everything is clear, you’re good to take the assessment.
What else do I need to know?
You’ll have 90 minutes to complete 30 questions (that’s more than enough time). Questions are multiple choice (only one answer is correct), multiple answer (the number of correct answers will be specified — i.e., two, three, four, etc.) and true/false. You’ll be able to bookmark questions and refer to them whenever you need to. Below are the main subject areas and their descriptions.
Another important aspect you need to know is the way the responses are evaluated. For many (not all) of the multiple answer questions, correct answers are partially graded. That means if you have two out of three correct responses, you may receive a partial amount of points for the question (not 0 as with PSM I).
One attempt costs $250, but if you take PSM class, you’ll be given a $100 discount for the PSM II. Once you’re ready to take the assessment (or even immediately following your passing score on the PSM I … the codes no longer expire), you’ll need to contact Scrum.org directly to receive the $100 discount (email@example.com).
You can take the PSM II assessment anytime, but you won’t be given a second chance if you fail the first attempt (even if you take it in the first two weeks or later … as with the PSM I).
All in all, the PSM II is a great opportunity to distinguish yourself. But remember, your knowledge and skills are more valuable than the certification itself.
This article originally appeared on May 15, 2018.