For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a Scrum Master, and I’ve been lucky enough to pass the PSM III. Recently I’ve been supporting Product Owners more directly, and I’m a firm believer in proving you can practice what you preach, so I wanted to improve my knowledge of the Product Owner accountabilities and validate it through the PSPO III assessment.

There are two questions I want to give answers to in this post:

  1. Why did I pursue the PSPO III as a Scrum Master?
  2. How did I prepare for the assessment?

I will not be sharing questions I received in the assessment, so if you’re hoping for that, feel free to stop reading now 😊. Also, I’ll be using terminology from the 2017 Scrum Guide as that is the content I sat my assessment against.

Why did I pursue the PSPO III as a Scrum Master?

Put simply, I pursued it to get some perspective as a Product Owner – and boy, did I get some perspective! I decided to do it because, particularly in my current organisation, the Product Owner is almost an outsider to the workings of the Scrum Master and Development Team. I wanted to bring him in closer, but in order to be an effective change agent I believe you need to be empathetic regarding the changes you want to see.

I’ve never been a Product Owner (being a proxy NEVER counts) and like many Scrum Masters, I used to be guilty of thinking ‘They’ve just got to set a vision, order a Product Backlog and chat to stakeholders. How hard can that be?’. Turns out, it’s a lot more than that, and a lot tougher than we give them credit for. There’s a lovely quote in the old guide about how a Scrum Master serves a Product Owner- “Finding techniques for effective Product Backlog management” (Scrum Guide, 2017) and it’s still, bar a minor addition of the Product Goal, present in the 2020 guide. I know I’ve said it once in this post already, but I believe you can’t preach unless you can empathise with being there. How could I suggest techniques to a Product Owner, if I’ve never considered the purpose of them from their perspective? I came to the view that I couldn’t, which is why I wanted to spend some time getting as close as I could to understanding the Product Owner role.

How did I prepare for the assessment?

When I study for assessments, I don’t do it over long timeboxes for two reasons. Firstly, I lose the ability to focus when additional goals come along and secondly, I forget content. Since the start of lockdown I’ve tried to model the practice of ‘stop starting, start finishing’ to minimise my lead time. From deciding to pursue this assessment to sitting it was nine days.

In those nine days I did a few things that I’ll break down below:

  • Reading: The Professional Product Owner by Don McGreal and Ralph Jocham, the EBM guide and some key blogs on Scrum.org (I did an advanced search on Google for scrum.org, Product Owner, and blog). All of these things contributed to my knowledge around the subject matter, and I referred to all three in my essay responses.
  • Questions: I practiced answering the essays by writing my own questions. When reading the PPO book, I wrote myself 15-ish mock essay questions in the style of PSM III (I have an advantage here, as I know the style, but there are plenty of blogs to read that share examples of fake questions to give you an idea). Writing the answers to my own questions got me in the mindset, and some of them, it turns out, weren’t too far from some real ones!
  • Community: Engage with people who have passed the assessment. Find out how they got on and whether they have any tips – everyone likes to share knowledge, and the three people I reached out to were all so helpful. If you have questions or want to bounce your thoughts off a particular topic, these people are your first port of call. I could have used the Scrum.org forums which are awesome, but I prefer a personal connection.
  • Mindset: The quickest, but most important thing I did was to structure my time. The assessment is two hours long, with thirty-five questions to answer. In my experience, nine of those were essay-based questions and twenty-six were multiple choice (to the best of my recollection). I knew that I could blast through the multiple choice in about twenty minutes, which meant I had a hundred minutes for nine questions – just over ten minutes each. It’s for this reason why I’d say the assessment technique for the PSPO III is easier than the PSM III; the timeboxes for essay questions aren’t comparable!

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I found out yesterday that I’d passed with 98.1% (101 out of 103 marks) – far higher than I expected.

From speaking to recent assessment takers, 15-20 days seems to be the turnaround – it took mine 17 days, so that timescale seems about right.

If you’d like to have a chat about PSPO III or PSM III, please reach out to me and I’ll be glad to chat through it with you.

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