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The Qualification Quandry

Everyone likes passing a new qualification, but which one should you pursue? Most qualifications that provide some sort of certificate cost £000s and no business wants to fund something that offers them no benefit in return. In this blog I’m going to cover some of the qualifications on offer by and share the benefits they’ve given me. Hopefully they might help you put together a solid business case to get your employer to fund your effort…!

Before I start, I should probably explain my background. I am independent contractor working as a Scrum Master and Agile Coach. I can fund as much training I want because it’s coming out of my pocket. Having said this, I will only attempt to validate my knowledge if it meets 3 criteria:

  • Is it something that will add to my value offering?
  • Is it something that will allow me to standout in the marketplace?
  • Am I interested in it?

Just a word of kind advice, never try to gain certification in something just because you feel like you should.

So, onto the reviews!

Professional Scrum Master (PSM I)

This qualification is for mainly for those taking on the role of Scrum Master. I pursued it because it consolidated my knowledge of Scrum. It taught me the basic framework, the core values and how/why Scrum existed. The assessment is hard but mainly because of the time constraint rather than the question difficulty (80 questions, 60 minutes, 85% to pass). Just one thing to note, it doesn’t really focus on how to implement Scrum so if you’re an experienced Scrum Master looking for techniques, look towards the next course…

Professional Scrum Master (PSM II)

This is mainly for experienced Scrum Masters. Is this possible to obtain without experience? Probably. But most of the questions are situational and unless you can relate to real life experience, it’ll be really challenging. Studying for the PSM-II validated the techniques I use to coach teams in Scrum (and showed me some new ones) and encouraged me to take a step back. A lot of Scrum Masters focus on their service to their Development Team, but PSM-II made me look towards my service towards the organisation and how to be a more effective change agent. I found this assessment easier than the PSM-I, partly because I had more experience under my belt but also there are less time constraints (30 questions, 60 minutes, 85% to pass). The questions are a few sentences long, but there is still enough time to do a full check through after your first pass.

Professional Agile Leadership (PAL I)

This one is for those who work as a leader who want to validate/learn how to make your organisation more Agile. It focuses on how: you can be a better leader, when to remove impediments and how you can empower teams. Most importantly, you will learn how agility adds value to an organisation. To take the assessment you will also need a good understanding of the Scrum competencies. Even though I would say this was the easiest of the qualifications to obtain, it was the most valuable. I studied for it because it became apparent to me that so many impediments, often though no fault of management, occur at an organisational level. I thought, if I knew how to make an organisation more Agile, I could coach management into doing it – empathy is the key to being a change agent sometimes! As with the PSM-II, time isn’t an issue (36 questions, 60 minutes, 85% to pass).

Professional Scrum Product Owner (PSPO II)

Full disclosure, I skipped the PSPO I. Why? Well, I’m not a Product Owner for starters. I also found that I was more in need of the ability to coach a Product Owner to do their role effectively rather than focus on my knowledge of the framework. I’m sure the PSPO I is massively valuable (after all, it focuses on ‘maximising value’…hah, Scrum joke) but I can’t comment on it as I haven’t studied for it. This qualification, like the PSM II, focuses on the techniques of how to be an effective Product Owner and the benefits of doing so. You’ll learn about important metrics, key value indicators and the struggles a Product Owner has to face. This was a super challenging one for me to obtain, but I knew that the value in being able to coach a Product Owner well was important to my role as a Scrum Master (40 questions, 60 minutes, 85% to pass).


So, those are the qualifications I currently have from On reflection, having the badge of certification is nice, but I don’t really need them. My goal was to get better at my role and improve my value offer and the focused study alone was enough to achieve this – the forum is excellent support for your study. My advice for junior Scrum Masters is that once you feel confident in your job, look wider at other roles you engage with and improve your knowledge of them. You’ll be a better Scrum Master and Coach because of it.


Finally, I thought I’d share some tips on how to pass the qualifications above. Every blog post you see will suggest reading the Scrum guide, completing the recommended reading, and taking the open assessments on so I’m not going to do that. I learn by repeating things over and over and so my two tips for you are:

  1. Pair up: Find someone else who is either going through the same qualification as you or has been through it and quiz each other. Read the Scrum Guide out and play ‘complete this sentence’. Ask each other mock questions followed up by ‘why?’. Learning collaboratively tunes your knowledge and provides a sounding board for questions.
  2. Teach it: By far the most effective way to ingrain something in your knowledge is to teach it. Explaining the stuff you are studying to someone else just drills it into your mind like nothing else will. Many years ago there was a piece of research that said you remember 5% of what you read and 80% of what you teach (I can’t find a link now, but I promise I’m not making it up 😊). Pick a topic and teach it to your teams. Are you struggling to remember the core values? The Scrum artefacts? The purposes of timeboxes? Teach it!

There you have it. My general ramblings on Qualification Quandry I’ve been lucky enough to obtain. My next target is the PSM-III. For those who understand how challenging it is, wish me luck…

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