There is a trend which 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 decreases significantly when preparing for the PSM II. Thus, it is way more difficult to find valuable information, guidance and clarification on how to pass the PSM II compared to PSM I. That can be partially explained by the fact that there are 138.104 PSM I holders and just 1473 certified PSM II professionals (as of March 31, 2018).
In this article I would like to emphasize my attention on PSM II and answer the most critical questions that can be brought up during the preparation for the assessment. I consider the reader has already passed 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 that you can have no experience at all and pass the assessment with 90% and more. There are no specific questions in PSM II that can be learned just in the “real world.” Moreover, experience that many Scrum Masters gain in their day to day activities sometimes can be harmful. That happens when Scrum that professionals often use in their companies differs from Scrum in its purest form.
For example, John has 2 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 that there can’t be a Sprint Review without a demo. And if John sees questions during his assessment which state that “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 emphasize my attention on the idea of the assessment. And the idea here is to understand Scrum the way Ken Schwaber sees it. Your experience can help you to 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 is common that professionals with at least one year of involvement in the role of Scrum Master are trying 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 is a significant difference between PSM I and PSM II questions in terms of the knowledge you need to answer them correctly. The difference here is more structural. Thus, PSM I assessment is more oriented on junior Scrum Masters, 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 is why in PSM I you see questions such as:
- “Who is on the Scrum Team?” (it is Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Development Team);
- “Refinement shouldn’t take more than 10% of Development Team capacity?” (that is true);
- “When is the Sprint over?” (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. PSM II assessment is slightly different. You will not 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 were not refined to the appropriate level for team granularity. The team admitted they have a clear understanding of the selected cards and they will 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 are a Scrum Master for this team. What will you suggest the team do in this situation (choose one correct answer):
- Tell the team that they are not allowed to spend more than 10% of their capacity on refinement during the Sprint.
Invite available developers from other teams to refine “unrefined” cards with Product Owner while the Development team is working on “ready” cards.
- As a Scrum Master, one of your primary responsibilities is to remove impediments which prevent the team from delivering on the Sprint Goal. By telling them they cannot use more than 10% of their time on refinement you artificially create an impediment that as a Scrum Master you will need to remove. Moreover, Scrum doesn’t say that refinement cannot take more than 10% of 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.
As a Scrum Master, find and provide the solution to the team on how to approach this situation.
- It is the Development team who is responsible for delivering an increment by the end of the Sprint. They committed to the Sprint Goal and it is up to them to self-organize and determine how they are going to reach it within the current team capacity.
Coach the team and Product Owner on the necessity of backlog refinement and ask the team how they are going to approach this situation while taking into consideration the necessity of achieving the Sprint goal.
- In addition to removing impediments, another responsibility of a Scrum Master is to ensure Scrum is understood and enacted within the team. Scrum Master should not always provide the solutions for team issues, but rather coach them in finding the solution themselves.
- That is the correct response since it mentions direct Scrum Master activities as well as Team and Product Owner’s responsibilities on refinement. It is the development team who should decide how they are 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 do not adhere to the underlying values of Scrum. It is 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 is more oriented towards your overall understanding of Scrum and ability to apply your knowledge (the way we just did) to the real-world situations. That is why many people say that having experience of Scrum Master may help to pass this test.
How can I prepare for PSM II?
There are many areas that should be taken into consideration, and among all of them, I would 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 is critical to be sure you are confident with the following subject areas: Scrum Framework, Scrum Theory and Principles, Cross-Functional & Self-Organized Teams, and Coaching & Facilitation.
- Professional Scrum Master Training;
- That class is a step up from Professional Scrum Foundations and more oriented towards 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. 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 would suggest reading the Nexus Guide, taking the SPS 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 are not too many scrum values, but it is essential to understand each of them and their role in Scrum. Please, think deeper! A good exercise will be to think about your team member’s 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 Product Owner that the Sprint goal seemed to be unachievable.” We are 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 that Ken Schwaber is talking about and giving analysis of those events. Therefore, you will be able to see the big picture supported by very important details. There are some financial aspects that you might want to pay attention to and 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 will 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 are 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 is not very clear, areas of consideration, etc. Prepare, study, learn. Read it the second time when you think you are ready. If you have no questions and everything is clear, you are good to take the assessment.
What else do I need to know?
You will have 90 minutes to complete 30 questions (that is more than enough). Questions are multiple choice (just one answer is correct), multiple answer (the number of correct answers will be specified, i.e. two, three, four, etc.) and true/false. You will be able to bookmark questions and refer to them whenever you need to. Below is the main subject areas and their description.
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 2 out of 3 correct responses, you may receive a partial amount of points for this question (not 0 as for PSM I).
One attempt costs $250, but if you take PSM class you will be given a $100 discount for the PSM II. Once you are ready to take the assessment (or even immediately following your passing score on the PSM I…the codes no longer expire!), you will need to contact Scrum.org directly to receive the $100 discount (email@example.com). You can take the PSM II assessment any time, but you will not be given a 2nd chance if you fail the first attempt (no matter if you take it in 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 is what is valued rather than certification itself.