The PSM-I Exam and Certificate

I’ve spent the last few weeks writing about sections from The Scrum Guide, before continuing on with that I wanted to touch on some of the certifications out there. I discussed in a previous post the differences between Scrum Alliance and Scrum.org. Personally I have done most of my certification with Scrum.org. This is because you can attempt their exams without having to attend a training course (meaning you can self study which reduces cost), but also because there certificates don’t expire. However, several of my friends and colleagues have gone down the Scrum Alliance route and have found their approach very valuable too.

Over the next three weeks I’m going to talk about the PSM exams, what they entail and what to expect.

The Professional Scrum Master 1 (or PSM-I for short) is the intermediate level exam from Scrum.org (there isn’t a foundation one). You take it by buying a token through their website for $150 USD (or provided I believe if you attend one of their Training Courses).

If you pass the exam you are allowed to display the badge on your website

The exam consists of 80 True/False and Multiple Choice questions and you have an hour to complete it. You’ll probably use most of the time, especially if you check your answersbut shouldn’t feel the seconds ticking down on you.

In terms of content almost all of the questions are based on your knowledge and understanding of the scrum guide. Before you take the exam you should read it thoroughly (multiple times) and make sure you understand the concepts there.

I would also highly recommend looking at the Learning Path and Open Exam. Make sure you consistently get 100% on the open exam before you sit the test, it really is a very good resource.

The pass mark is 85% and you will almost always get your result immediately. You will also get a score breakdown which shows which areas you did very well in and which areas you may want to study further (guess what I revised before moving onto PSM-II).

The breakdown from my PSM-I

You also get the option to download badges (as above) and certificates (as below) and a link for anyone to validate your achievement.

Scrum.org keep a count of how many people have passed their certification and as you can see it’s a very popular exam. Definitely a nice one to have on your CV if you work with scrum teams.

I do hope this has been of some help, please do get in touch if you have any questions or leave a message below if you have any advice for anyone thinking of taking the exam.

The Role of the Scrum Master in a Development Team

The Scrum Master is the role most often associated with Scrum and a lot is written about the roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities of anyone fulfilling the role.

The Scrum Guide explains

The Scrum Master is accountable for establishing Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. They do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory and practice, both within the Scrum Team and the organisation

The Scrum Guide 2020

In other words its a Scrum Master’s job to coach and support the adoption of Scrum. Generally the commitment of a Scrum Master is to three main parties, these are:

  • The team
  • The Product Owner
  • The business
A Scrum Master has responsibilities to the Team, The Product Owner, and the Business.

Lets start with the Scrum Team itself.

The Scrum Master should coach the team in their adoption of scrum. This includes building and supporting self-managing and cross-functional teams and making sure they hold productive and valuable Scrum Events. They should stress the importance in the Scrum Artefacts and Commitments including creating a transparent Product Backlog and clear Definition of Done.

They should also act as a facilitator, helping the team make good decisions and removing impedements when they arise.

In their role to support the Product Owner the Scrum Master should help find effective methods of creating clear Sprint Goals and managing the Product Backlog. They should also help create a culture of transparency, openness, and empirism which will lead to better product decisions being made. They should encourage stakeholder engagement and offer to facilitate where needed.

A Scrum Master is the appointed people within the business to ensure that the Scrum process is a success. This involves supporting the business with the scrum adoption, advising on the implementation and helping engagement between teams and stakeholders. A good Scrum Master will look for barriers and issues arising between the business and the Scrum Teams and work to ensure that both management and Developers get what they need from the other.

Being a Scrum Master often means you have to be the champion of the process.

Being a Scrum Master is not an easy role. You have to be able to resolve impedements effectively, to engage with a wide variety of people and to champion the Scrum process to both the business and the teams. Be nice to your Scrum Master, they’re always working for you!

The Role of the Product Owner in a Scrum Team

Last week I wrote about the roles and responsibilities of a Developer on the Scrum team. This week is about the Product Owner (often simply referred to as the PO). It’s worth noting that the PO can also be a Developer. However, in my experience the Product Owner is more commonly a non-technical ally for the team, a specialist in the product or the industry.

The PO should not be confused with a Project Manager, that is not their role! A scrum team should be self managing.

The Scrum Guide’s first few words about the PO define their role the most succinctly.

The Product Owner is accountable for maximizing the value

The Scrum Guide 2020

In other words it is the role of the Product Owner to ensure that the Scrum Team are always working on whatever will deliver the most value to the customers and the business. Whether that’s a bug fix, a new feature, or an investigation into upcoming work.

They use Product Goals to avoid this vision becoming too short sighted and reactive, sharing a future state of the product they are working on and working with the Scrum Master and the rest of the team to make that goal a reality.

It is the responsibility of the Product Owner to ensure that the Scrum Team are focused on the most valuable work at any given team.

There are also a few key points around the PO’s role:

  • Should the Sprint Goal become obsolete the PO is the only person with authority to cancel a sprint
  • The PO is a single empowered individual, it is not a committee. Two (or more) POs cannot share a product however the PO can delegate work to other people within the team they remain accountable
  • The business must respect the decisions made by the PO

It is also the Product Owner’s resposibility to understand and articulate the work and make sure that the Acceptance Criteria is well defined and the Product Backlog properly ordered.

It is the Product Owner’s responsibility to communicate the work to the developers so it is clearly understood and can be delivered.

Finally, the Product Owner should always engage with stakeholders to properly understand priorities and requirements. In order to maximise value they must speak with the business and the customers to understand the biggest issues. They must then work with the team to deliver it.

There are a couple of great resources out there for POs if you’re interested. The first is a video by Henrik Knibergwhich gives a great overview of Agile Product Ownership. The second is an article on Scrum.org which discusses the PO’s role in managing and understanding technical debt.

However you cut it the PO’s role is very challenging and includes lots of difficult decisions. Be nice to your PO – create transparency and openness with your point of view and then respect their decisions.

The Role of the Developer in a Scrum Team

Having covered the Scrum Events in recent blog posts I’m going to move onto the three Roles in any Scrum Team. These are Developers, Product Owner, and Scrum Master. This post will be about the Developers, I’ll cover the other two in subsequent posts.

Developer here is a rather broad term. Scrum is most commonly used in the software industry but not exclusively, and as we all know there are many other skills required to build and deliver software than crunching code. For the sake of simplicity The Scrum Guide has termed anyone working to create the product a Developer.

Developers are the people in the Scrum Team that are committed to creating any aspect of a usable Increment each Sprint.

The Scrum Guide 2020

It goes on to explain that the skillsets that the developers will need are wide and varied depending on the domain and nature of the product. For all intents and purposes the “Developer” is anyone who does the work. This could include (but is not limited to) Programmers, Testers, Automation Engineers, Infrastructure Engineers, and UX Experts. From the point of view of Scrum there is no distinction between these roles.

Interestingly the Scrum Master and Product Owner can also be Developers, it’s just that they take on more responsibilities with the additional role.

In Scrum a Developer is anyone who is involved in creating the increment each sprint.

Where the Scrum Guide goes into in more detail is what the developers are accountable for.

Creating a plan for the Sprint, the Sprint Backlog in other words the Developers, as the people doing the work are the ones accountable for creating the plan and Sprint Backlog. This is in stark contrast to more traditional management models where “the boss” creates the plan and assigns work.

Instilling quality by adhering to a Definition of Done the Developers are experts in their domain and professionals. They will create the Defintion of Done with the Product Owner and Stakeholders and hold themselves accountable to adhering to it.

Adapting their plan each day toward the Sprint Goal usually during the Daily Scrum. The Developers will inspect the current progress and adapt if required. They may seek out the Scrum Master or Product Owner if the impediments need to be adapted or if the approach to the Sprint Goal needs to change.

Holding each other accountable as professionals the best teams hold themselves accountable because the end results are important to them. All Scrum Team members should hold each other accountable for their actions and behaviour in a open and respectful manner.

Developers should hold each other accountable as professionals

It’s not easy being a Scrum Developer, a lot is expected of you. However, the experience of working in a team where people respect each other and have the courage to speak up and respectfully challenge ideas and designs is hugely rewarding.

This is why Scrum makes the accountabilities and values of each developer so transparent in it’s guides and resources.

The Retrospective

The Sprint Retro is a key part of any scrum team which is looking to improve its process and adapt its ways of working to continuously improve. As with any adaption the key is transparency, the the more information the team can gather throughout the sprint around impediments or challenges they’ve faced the better. Personally I like to create a retrospective board at the start of a Sprint so team members can add their thoughts to the board as the sprint evolves rather than looking back (which always favours things which happen in the last few days).

The main challenge with the Retrospective is to avoid it turning into a moaning or helpless session. From The Scrum Guide:

The purpose of the Sprint Retrospective is to plan ways to increase quality and effectiveness.

The Scrum Guide 2020

Scrum Masters use a wide variety of techniques to support gathering information about the sprint including anyonmous submissions, “What Went Well vs What Didn’t Go Well”, and often scenarios involving rockets or icebergs. However, it’s important to remember that the Retrospective is a working session to give the team some concrete actions on what they can do to increase either Quality or Effectiveness (or, ideally both). While having a good rant about something which went wrong or something which impeded them can be therapeutic unless an action is taken to lean from that then neither objective should be met.

Teams must look at how to improve and adapt to challenges, not just moan about what got in their way.

This kind of adaption is not easy. It requires teams to look honestly at what’s happened and see what they could have done different, this kind of self assessment takes real courage and for the team to have a real growth mindset. It’s the delicate role of a Scrum Master to balance between criticising what the team should have done and coaching them to look for alternative strategies of what could be done in the future.

Its easy to say that a Sprint Goal failed because X in the infrastructure team. It’s much harder to reflect on what the team could have done to prevent that issue arising. It requires taking acountability and to avoid casting other people as villains.

In earlier versions of The Scrum Guide the team were required to add at least one action to the next Sprint Backlog, however it is now recommended to be properly alongside other work.

The Scrum Team identifies the most helpful changes to improve its effectiveness. The most impactful improvements are addressed as soon as possible. They may even be added to the Sprint Backlog for the next Sprint.

The Scrum Guide 2020

The Sprint Retrospective requires the three pillars of empirism to be effective however this time they must be focused inward, at what the team could change or could have done differently. It also requires the Scrum Values to be first and foremost in everyone’s mind. Impediments can come from within the team as often as outside it and we rely on our courage and respect to get us through those tough conversations.

Please feel free to post in the comments below of any retropectives which have worked really wel for you in the past, it would be great to read about them.

The Sprint Review

The Sprint Review is an invaluable session to demo progress, engage stakeholders, and discuss what to do next. However, in my experience mist teams don’t take full advantage of the session.

The Scrum Guide says

The purpose of the Sprint Review is to inspect the outcome of the Sprint and determine future adaptations. The Scrum Team presents the results of their work to key stakeholders and progress toward the Product Goal is discussed.

The Scrum Guide 2020

In other words the review is a chance to take a step back and look at the increments which have been completed during the sprint, consider the product goal, and decide the next short term objective.

This should be done in full view of stakeholders, the more transparency the better because this is how we avoid waste and poor quality.

Sharing work with clients and stakeholders is daunting but it’s far better than building the wrong thing.

Personally I’m always worried when I hear teams ask “Do we have anything to demo?”. This often implies to me that they think of the Sprint Review as a presentation of progress rather than a working and planning session. Furthermore, a scrum team should aim to release at least one increment, no matter how small each and every sprint so keep an eye out for these warning signs.

The Scrum Guide reminds us that:

The Sprint Review should never be considered a gate to releasing value.

The Scrum Guide 2020

It is far better to think of the Sprint Review as an opportunity to recap what has recently been completed (if not deployed) and a chance to engage with stakeholders on what should be done next.

Daily Scrum

Last week we talked about the Sprint Planning session, today I’m going to move on to one of my favourite scrum events. The Daily Scrum.

The fifteen minutes each day where the team catch up are some of hte most powerful, but also some of the most woefully misunderstood of all the scrum events.

The purpose of the Daily Scrum is to inspect progress toward the Sprint Goal and adapt the Sprint Backlog as necessary, adjusting the upcoming planned work.

The Scrum Guide 2020

In other words the entire purpose of those 15 minutes is to review the team’s progress against the Sprint Goal and ensure that they are still on track. They should consider progress, any new information they’ve discovered, and any risks they’ve found and discuss if any change of strategy is required to hit the Sprint Goal.

The Daily Scrum is about verifying progress against the Sprint Goal. Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

The Scrum Guide also says

The Developers can select whatever structure and techniques they want, as long as their Daily Scrum focuses on progress toward the Sprint Goal and produces an actionable plan for the next day of work.

The Scrum Guide 2020

However, more than in almost any other event I see zombie scrum going on in Daily Scrums. In team after team, company after company I see teams standing up around a screen answering the dreaded three questions “What Did I Do Yesterday?”, “What Am I Doing Today?” and “Do I have any Impedements?” (by the way – 99% of the time people apparently don’t).

While there’s nothing wrong with this approach there’s something seriously amiss if the team do not circle back to address the main point of the meeting. Given the raw data we’ve captured from the team on their progress and their blockers do we still believe we are capable of meeting the Sprint Goal? Has something someone has said put that in jeopardy and what can the team do adapt.

The Daily Scrum is the daily iteration of the inspect and adapt pillars of empiriscm (which only works if there is a feeling of safety in the team which creates transparency). Instead of simply waiting for their turn to write the three questions developers should be listening to each other’s answers and looking for indication that the team may not meet it’s objectives.

Don’t be afraid to mix up the Daily Scrum format, but do be very nervous if you’re not discussing the Sprint Goal in each and every meeting!

Sprint Planning

Last week we talked about the Sprint. This week we’re going to kick off with Sprint Planning. The Scrum Guide defines Sprint Planning as

Sprint Planning initiates the Sprint by laying out the work to be performed for the Sprint. This resulting plan is created by the collaborative work of the entire Scrum Team.

The Scrum Guide 2020

It recommends you do this by answering three questions. How is this sprint valuable? What can be done this sprint? How will the work get done?

In my experience most scrum teams by estimating Product Backlog Items, or PBIs (often called User Stories) and estimating how much work they can deliver by looking at their historical velocities.

This, in my opinion is wrong.

When teams do this it’s very easy for them to let the work drive the goals instead of the other way around. Rather than identifying what they want to achieve and working out how to deliver it they look at lots of granular pieces of work and cram as many into the sprint as possible, often losing synergy and coherence in the future.

It is always better for a team to look at what they want to achieve and what the various people can do to make that happen than to try and assign particular tasks to each person. This sometimes means that people’s capacity isn’t 100% utilised. But that time is infested in collaborating, learning, paying down tech debt, and supporting their team mates who are on the critical path. Far better than having everyone so stressed by an arbitrary deadline because some random user story was included in a sprint.

Working out what to include, or not include in a sprint is never easy

A team should always identify the next step forward for their product, the one which would yield the most value and plan the work required to meet that goal. They can use estimates to assess whether a particular plan for doing it is feasible. They shouldn’t focus on trying to fill up a quota of story points from estimates of varying accuracy.

It’s the PBIs which are planned to meet the sprint goal which we will use to verify our progress in the Daily Scrum sessions. This will be the subject of next week’s post so make sure you’re following the blog if you want to read it!

The Sprint

I am currently studying with a view to attempting my PSM-III, if I stand any chance of passing I need to go back to basics to make sure I have a rock solid understanding of the fundamentals. With that in mind for the next few weeks I’m going to go back to core scrum and share my views on some of the fundamentals.

You can’t get a lot more fundamental than the sprint. The scrum guide defines a sprint as

Sprints are the heartbeat of Scrum, where ideas are turned into value.

The Scrum Guide 2020

In scrum we plan work in timeboxes, usually 2-4 weeks. By working to a much shorter planning horizon we can gain a lot of confidence as we go by reviewing progress frequently and adapt as required as the project goes along.

It is not a release schedule!

Many teams I have worked with attempt to set their deployment schedule with their end of sprint. These should be entirely coupled, DevOps has lots of good ideas about how and when to deploy. Deployments should be done as required throughout the sprint.

The sprint is about setting a goal and a timebox to achieve it. By having a consistent length of sprint we can gain confidence in the amount of work which can be delivered by looking at how much has been achieved in previous sprints. This is the purpose of velocity and estimation (a useful tool, if not a scrum process).

During the sprint:

● No changes are made that would endanger the Sprint Goal;

● Quality does not decrease;

● The Product Backlog is refined as needed; and,

● Scope may be clarified and renegotiated with the Product Owner as more is learned.

The Scrum Guide 2020

In other words the team should focus on the objective of the sprint (the sprint goal) and not get distracted and put it in jeopardy in favour of other work.

Quality should be at least as high at the end of the sprint as it is at the beginning, one or more increments of work should be completed should be produced and all should meet the Definition of Done. If it isn’t “Done” then it shouldn’t be included and may be picked up in the next sprint. Testing phases and hardening sprints are categorically not scrum. Each price of work should be a high quality, done, potentially shippable increment.

Refinement of upcoming work and investigation of planned work continued as time goes on. Remember a sprint goal can be achieved even if the method and approach is refined as the sprint goes on.

So how long should a sprint be? This comes down to the development team in question. Generally a more work can be done in a longer sprint, however there’s more risk that something will arise which would invalidate the sprint goal. For this reason sprints should not be longer than one month.

Finally, if at any point the sprint goal becomes invalid the Product Owner may cancel the sprint. This could be for a number of reasons. The priority of work may have changed dramatically due to customer needs or the discovery of a bug (shorter sprints help prevent the waste of cancellation here). Or, the team may discover as they progress that the goal is impossible or not as valuable as originally believed. We’re in the business of doing effective work. If we discover that work isn’t going to be valuable our job is to avoid waste and move onto something which would be.

There’s probably a lot more I could add but hopefully it’s a good introduction. Do follow along for the rest of the series, next week will be Sprint Planning!

Two “Magic Rules” for Achieving Great Things

Ok, I lie – but it got your attention.

This week I want to talk about the two most important rules you can follow if you want to deliver great work and hit goals. Regardless of whether they’re software projects, books you want to write, or exams you want to pass. They are utterly underwhelming…

Rule 1: Start doing it

Rule 2: Keep doing it until you finish

There you go, I told you they were underwhelming!

However, I want to go a little deeper (otherwise this would be a very short post).

Failure to start is one of the biggest reasons people don’t do things. How many times have you planned to do something one evening only to get home and fail to do it? The reason (according to James Clear in his book Atomic Habits) is because it takes energy and effort to start doing things. Far too often our brains follow a pre-programmed pattern to avoid decision fatigue. Do you want to go running tonight or watch television? What do you need to do to start running? You’ll need to get changed, then you’ll need to find your trainers, then you’ll need to actually do the running… oh, and then there’s the shower. But the TV remote is just there.

In his book James describes ways to reduce the friction required to take on these individual habits and actions and make them easier to do day to day. I do this myself. I want to listen to audiobooks each day, so I leave my headphones by the side of my bed so they’re the first thing I pick up each morning. If you want to go for a run after work then put your kit on your bed before you leave in the morning – or even better put it on before you leave the office so it’ll actually be more effort not to go for a run than it will be to just get out the door!

Photo by mentatdgt on Pexels.com

Once you’ve got started that’s a huge step forward. But a single run doesn’t make you fit. A thousand words doesn’t make a book. So how do you keep that momentum going day after day to make progress until the work is done?

The first step is to understand what “Done” is. Is there a done? If it’s about fitness then you may be looking for a particular weight or time, but you may also be looking to maintain. If you’re building a product you may be looking for a number of active users. Just like in product management and software development we should always be clear about what we want to accomplish before we set off. We can evolve that view, but it helps to act as a beacon.

This leads directly into the motivation question. If we understand our objective we can track our progress towards it. Visibly seeing our progress towards a concrete goal is a very powerful motivational tool (as well as the other benefits of transparency and adaptibility). Burn up charts for your personal goals may seem like overkill, but they’re really not.

Here’s my burn up chart for my reading goal (you can see I actually made the goal far more ambitious because I was doing so well).

You can see I’m doing something similar with my cloud computing exams. This one isn’t going so well, and what am I going to do about it? Revalidate the goal, recalculate the effort and expectations, and then really myself. As with all things agile create transparency, inspect, and adapt.

I know this post started a little tongue in cheek but hopefully it helps and has provided some valuable tools to meet your own goals. Don’t forget, start… and then continue until you are done!