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Why and how to become Scrum certified?

Reading Time: 7 min

Are you agile? Or more precisely – are you working in agile way?

You probably nod right now with certainty, because it’s clearly obvious that current top working process is not waterfall… everyone knows that waterfall is bad, watery and old, right? So your process must be agile, simple as that!

What about Scrum? Are you using Scrum? Of course, you are! When you’ve joined your company, senior developer secretly told you, that you will work in Scrum. There will be two-week sprints, and stand-up meeting every other day, and each one of programmers will answer three holy questions:

  • What I did?
  • What I’m going to do next?
  • Am I blocked?

But why? Who cares! The guy with 8 years of experience told you that it’s scrum, so it’s scrum, end of discussion.

But is it really? Let’s see what 16 paged-long Scrum bible says about that:

Scrum’s roles, artifacts, events, and rules are immutable
and although implementing only parts of Scrum is possible,
the result is not Scrum. Scrum exists only in its entirety and functions well as a container
for other techniques, methodologies, and practices.

The Scrum Guide

I was shocked too when I’ve seen it for the first time. Either you have fully correct Scrum (with daily scrums and scrum planning, review and retrospective meetings!), or you don’t have it at all. Still echoes in my head… how agile is that?

Does it even matter?

Surprisingly, for some people it does. Especially the ones that use real Scrum in their work, instead of so-called Scrumerfall. Only when you truly apply the whole framework correctly, you will appreciate benefits from it, like real transparency, or fast adaptation.

Do you remember that new fellow in the team, that told you he’s programming in Java for the last four years, and it turned out a week later, that he lacks knowledge in language fundamentals? That’s so annoying! Now you need to sacrifice your precious time and focus to explain to him what he’s doing wrong… and nobody got time for that!<

Don’t be that needy, annoying guy. IT companies realized long ago, by trial and error how important it is to invite A-players and Unicorns to their wolfpack. Because of that, the scenario with Java newbie as a new senior is far more unlikely than it was before – now, we have even websites like codility.com, testdome.com and many others that try to measure technical skills of the contestant. Even so-called soft skills are sort-of picked on the interview. Many times, people describe it as “would I go on a beer with that person?”. Is he likable?

What about agile methodologies? It’s often just enough to ask if the candidate knows what agile means. Or what scrum means. For new players it will be enough – they need to re-forge and harden their knowledge in practice anyway. Problems arise when two specialists with vast experience are both sure their specialist in Scrum framework, but they argue in fundamentals – because they’ve applied scrum in different ways before (or maybe, they only thought that was scrum?). They may even hold a title of Scrum Master.

Who’s right? We need other, independent and reliable source of reaffirmation. Creators of Scrum sound like a good choice?

What can we do?

In today’s world, there are many sources that offer certification in almost any skill possible to obtain. Have you heard about Sealand country, on the eastern shores of Britain? You can become official Knight of Sealand through Internet. Just 99.99 £! Are you still running around the city and catching Pokemons here and there? Pokemon Professor certificate may be good choice for you.

Same goes for Scrum.

The most popular source to receive scrum certificate is Scrum Alliance – founded by scrum co-creator, Ken Schwaber, Mike Cohn, and Esther Derby, the first organization that offered the scrum certification program in 2002. To obtain their certifications, you need to attend their training (2 days long, 1200 – 1500 $). Certification is in the price of training.
However, these are not a lifetime. They need to be renewed every two years, for additional fee (100 $). The actual exam is told to be fairly easy in comparison to other alternatives, but it’s the most costly of them all.

Second place to look on should be Scrum.org – founded by… Ken Schwaber, once again, who split out from Scrum Alliance in 2009. Why? As you can read on the website itself, co-creator of scrum wanted to bring back lost mission to scrum organization, instead of making it money-factory. As he says:

I formed Scrum.org to refocus my efforts on doing the right thing.

Ken Schwaber

Scrum.org offers four kinds of certifications:

  • Professional Scrum Master (PSM I) (150 $)
  • Professional Scrum Product Owner (PSPO I) (200 $)
  • Professional Scrum Developer (PSD I) (200 $)
  • Scaled Professional Scrum (SPS I) (250 $)

Also, you should know that exams come in different levels – for example, after PSM I you can go for PSM II, and then PSM III. In total, as for today, there are seven Scrum.org certifications available. They are all for the lifetime and don’t require any training to be completed before assessment (although you can buy one, if you want, and price depends on the course). These certificates are known to be the hardest ones to obtain, requiring 85% correct answers to pass.

Third place may be the Scrum Institute. It offers many routes, related to both Scrum roles and technical proficiency, for example – there is certification just for Java Developer in Scrum Team (for 29 $). However, in Scrum and Agile community it’s mostly associated with cheap and unreliable certification.

The decision which organization to pick is up to you. There are many other sources, but three mentioned here will be certainly the most recognizable on the market.

Are you prepared?

I’ve completed PSD I from Scrum.org with 96,25%. I need to say, that it was a little harder than I’ve expected. Thanks to that experience, I can give you some tips on how to pass PSD and other Scrum.org certifications.

Which type of certification is good for you? Basing on scrum.org forum threads, PSM I is the easiest one that checks fundamentals of the Scrum, and it’s recommended place to start. Scrum Master sole tasks are described in the crum guide, as follow:

The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring Scrum is understood and enacted.
Scrum Masters do this by ensuring
that the Scrum Team adheres to Scrum theory, practices, and rules.

Because of that, it makes sense to start from PSM I, since it’s a certification that in 100% focuses on scrum itself, and that was our objective from the start!

However, it may not be the best one for the role you’re playing in the scrum team. If like me, you are a developer, it’s not required from you to have scrum theory knowledge equal to scrum master. You actually need mix of Scrum theory and the way how development team operates on day to day basis.

Let’s say you’ve decided which scrum.org exam you want. How to prepare now? I would recommend these activities, from the most important at the top:

  1. Scrum.org open assessments. Each open exam is a bundle of questions that may happen on the real exam (there are around 40 open questions in a pool, and open assessments test you with 15 – 30 of them – so remember to take them multiple times). Be warned though – the real exam is harder. From my experience, it’s mandatory to pass open assessments multiple times in a row for 100 % before taking real certification – and still, you may fail miserably.
  2. Read scrum guide multiple times in both English and your native language. There is also great version of scrum guide with images included. Why this guide is not at the top of the list? Because without open assessment you won’t notice how important it is to understand each sentence in the scrum guide.
  3. You can find sample questions online on Mikhail Lapshin website.  It’s also great source of verified knowledge, similar in difficulty to open assessments.
  4. Go through a glossary of these websites and make sure you understand them:
    1. Official Scrum.org scrum glossary,
    2. Official Scrum.org scrum developer glossary (mostly for PSD I),
    3. Scrum alliance glossary,
    4. Innolution glossary.
  5. Read scrum.org forum. Many questions from the real exam or open assessments originated from that source! If you go through asked questions on this forum, detailed explanations will harden your understanding. You will also, certainly, meet Ian Mitchell.
  6. Watch Mike Cohn’s youtube playlist on Scrum. Mike Cohn is iconic person in Agile community – I’m sure that he will help you to understand many scrum activities better than anyone else.
  7. Read blogs of important agile personas:
    1. Mike Cohn’s blog
    2. Scrum.org blog
    3. Scrum Alliance blog
  8. Read books about Scrum. This is the last point because it takes the most time to accomplish, and still, there’s no single book that will guarantee to pass the exam. Although Scrum.org recommends reading some books before exam, it may be hard to find time for all 29 recommended books for PSD… Still, there are some thin books worth to mention (they may even have sample exams included) that are useful for all exams:
    1. The Professional Scrum Product Owner: Guide to Pass PSPO 1 Certification
    2. The Scrum Master Training Manual: A Guide to the Professional Scrum Master (PSM) Exam
    3. Scrum and XP From The Trenches

All eight points mentioned above are useful for each Scrum.org certificate. I strongly believe, that out of 80 questions on the exam, around 40 of them will be obvious for anyone who went decently through them. They will be mostly scrum-theory related.

The second half of exam questions will base more on intuition, experience, and common sense. Even though I’ve gone through all exam questions in nearly twenty minutes, I’ve still bookmarked around 10 of them for later review, and I need to say that I was well prepared! It certainly shows you, how difficult some of the questions may be. If you are preparing for the PSD as I did, be ready for questions that may look like this:

  • How TDD differs from ADD and BDD?
  • What testers do on the first days of a sprint?
  • When CI server is set?
  • What it means that architecture emerges?

These are not real questions, but they are in similar tone and difficulty. You won’t find solutions to these questions on scrum guide – they base more on your experience and common sense and require certain development knowledge (glossary may help here!).

Summary

If most projects these days are done through agile methodologies, and most of the times companies claim that they use Scrum – I think it’s worth to have the certificate that proves you actually know how it should look like. Now when you will be looking for a job, word “Scrum” in the description may mean something different for you than just “Agile”. Maybe, after becoming Scrum Professional you will have the leverage to change the way how your company works? Since now people will know, that you are qualified to do it.

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