My experience in preparing to PSM II (Professional Scrum Master) certification

Hey everyone, here’s my list of resources and literature for getting prepped for the PSM II examination. I would be tremendously happy if you share yours 🙂

Sidenote: if you are “certificates are overvalued” type of person – I’d agree. This is especially true when it comes to CSM / PSM I – because that certification only mentions that you have been introduced to the basics. However, when it comes to PSM II you need to rely on your experience as a Scrum Master. No more “shu” (of shu-ha-ri), just your experience and daily understanding of agile values. 

By the time I write this post, there are 6793 PSM II holders.

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Preparation for PSM II

As Denis @ Agile Expat wrote in his blog in russian, it would be a great starting point to pass scrum.org open assessments at 100% before getting to PSM II exam:

  • PSPO open – because there are questions related to an understanding on how to coach PO and how to work with value. (might I say that you can easily pass PSPO exam in case you’ll pass PSM II)
  • PSM I – since you MUST know everything in it by heart. Values, roles, events, artifacts. 
  • PAL-E – so that through coaching you could understand higher management, metrics, organizational maturity.
  • PSK open – foundations of working with the flow.
  • Nexus open – foundations of official scrum.org scaling solution, although not the most popular one.

Other tests should be treated with the grain of salt. The internets provide you with a wide variety of preparational test suites: some of them are more oriented for passing PMI-ACP (and are overall PMBoK-skewed); other ones should be avoided at all costs as they mutilate the very basic principles of scrum and sabotage your preparation – stay aware.

Coaching, books, training

Lyssa Adkins: Coaching Agile Teams – rather easy-to-read and universal cookbook for Scrum Master’s stances of an agile coach, facilitator, teacher. It perfectly complements your personal experience.

There’s a small section on conflicts, which I find useful (in case you don’t want to dive deep into the science of conflicts). By the way, the book in my experience is greatly enhanced by ICAgile: ATF (Agile Team Facilitator), ICAgile ACC (Certified Agile Coaching) training courses.

A lot of reviews mention that the book is giving you nothing, in particular, it’s dull. I would argue that it works perfectly when it comes to your personal experience context.

Gunther Verheyen’s Scrum Pocket Guide – must-read-and-re-read book, that you get back to rather frequently. It covers and decomposes agile principles, scrum events, roles, and artifacts. You can’t pass the exam for PSM II if you don’t know Scrum Values and Agile Principles. You must be able to reel it all off! So truly a pocket guide for any occasion. 

The Scrum Master Way by Zuzana Sochova. Professional development vectors for SM, different stances for SM. Scrum master’s service to an organization -> all is found here.

8 stances of a scrum master is a whitepaper from Barry Overeem about the stances that SM can be. It’s a treasure chest for fruitful answers to PSM II questions. And a treasure chest for your self-reflecting scrum master-career. Because it’s essential to understand what stances are correct, and what’s unexpected. And when unexpected stances happen, there is a disconnect between what an organization wants, and what Scrum Guide tells us to do 🙂

Serious Scrum blog – collaborative blog from industry experts, with a lot of cases and solutions for situations far from trivial.

Actionable Agile Metrics – great to read a book about metrics.

Liberators whitepaper on scrum – oh you know those guys are not only people behind PSM II training design but also have their own visual and vivid way of explaining complex things in an easy and engaging way.

Trainings – even on some basic level you should personally try the teacher’s stance of the scrum master: as a teacher on team, individual or organizational level. It doesn’t matter whether you are doing a workshop on flow visualization, helping with pair debugging / mob debugging for DevOps team, or teach scrum basics for a couple of hours. What matters is that you gain experience & understanding of how agile values develop and appear through day-to-day actions, how teams behave in different situations, and that during the training you get feedback loop on all of that much faster.

Cynefin

I personally think that it’s important to be introduced to Dave Snowden’s framework on decision-making across different types of systems. There are no silver bullets, and scrum is not one.

Long Story Short: there is an algorithm of making a decision depending on system complexity. And Dave Snowden of Wales perfectly explained it (well, still works on decomposing and explaining) bit by bit. And when you learn the foundations there is yet another level deeper: categorization inside of a chaotic quadrant. Whoa, whole new microworld awaits.

Read more here (post) & and here’s the video from Snowden himself .

Technical Excellency Foundations

This is rather huge topic, that closely entwines with Continuous Improvement -> engineering practices that help develop / build processes and distribute knowledge more efficietly. Pair programming, mobbing, TDD, dealing with technical debt – it all falls into technical excellency foundations.

  • Zillions of blogs (Kent Beck, for example, you know him right? :)),
  • Scrum & XP from the Trenches by Kniberg (which I like for his real-life simple examples),
  • Extreme Programming Explored (good, but not godlike),
  • Books by Martin Fowler, if you want something more technical,
  • Uncle Bob and his books, like Agile Development, where he links Agile Values and development practice.

I don’t think you need that much of a literature. The one and only take here: you need to understand different engineering practice approaches from the angle of agility and how deep they inherit the very core of Agile-manifesto principles. Just to reiterate: no need for knowing all the bits, just Agile-values at the very core. (btw, almost anything common-sense-related revolves around them anyway).

DevOps

You need to understand the mindset. That automation and packing routine things into templates that are not dependant on possible human factors is how you can mitigate risk. Familiarize yourself (and if you’re working in IT you most likely know this, especially if you’re going to pass PSM II) with Continuous Delivery, Deployment – all that stuff. 

A note though: often an organization utilizes DevOps specialists as a separate team. Don’t forget that DevOps is about a mindset, not a team of SysAdmins-on-steroids. When it comes to Agility, we always link this mindset as a way to expand the development team’s cross-functionality. DevOps mindset across software engineers (it’s called Dev+Ops for a reason, right) is a horizon-broadening opportunity to gain new experience, learn more optimal paths to deliver the best value for the beloved customer. Separate DevOps teams are more of a step back to functional silos and component teams. Better augment DevOps engineer within each feature team, or up the skills of the development team itself.

All in all, just as with any engineering practice, I urge you to just see the source of agile thinking principles and empiricism. Any iterative process, that is followed by analyzing how to become better, plans this improvement and implements it is good. It’s always great to automate the routine and make it foolproof. And the sooner we see issues – the better.

Read and agree on how close this post is to agile manifesto in it’s core

Evidence-Based Management

Evidence-Based Management.

You shouldn’t wait for any complex questions on EBM, because scrum.org just recently published a guide related to this topic. This is about working with metrics and understanding company positions across the market. I think if you visited any pieces of training on Business Agility from ICAgile, or just coach management/organizations for Business Agility / or simply familiar with the topic, it should be pretty straightforward. In a nutshell, EBM attempts to answer questions such as how to effectively measure team improvement, delivery time, and relate this with market niches and potential lost profit. 

Maturity-models

You certainly don’t need to know PALe maturity canvas by heart, not precisely that scale yet for PSM II. However, it would be amazing that by the time you get to passing PSM II / A-CSM you overall get an understanding of Maturity-models (KMM, Scrum Maturity Model, Agile Leadership Maturity). This will help to map your organization on maturity canvases – it’s always great to self-reflect 🙂 If you’re familiar with spiral dynamics – it kind of also (IMO) nicely adds up to the understanding company’s agility and survivability agenda. 

Kanban-practices

Kanban for Scrum Teams (here’s the guide from the last year), or in my case KMP II helped a lot (thanks to my trainers Alexey Pikulev and Alexey Pimenov of RealResult). You need to understand principles of working with the flow, why WIP limits are important, the value of finishing started work first, and the harms of 100%-utilization.

In today’s world (IMO) there’s a trend of taking a system approach. In my opinion, right now it’s not incorporated at the very heart of scrum officially (well, it’s a framework and it doesn’t mandate which particular things to use, apart from what’s in scrum guide), unlike at Kanban it’s lives in the very core. What I mean is that you need to understand the value of system thinking, system approach, the theory of constraints, queueing theory, downsides of local optimization. 

By the way, Kanban formally familiarizes you with Cycle Time, Lead time metrics, Cumulative Flow Diagram, Spectral Analysis Chart reading. This is beneficial, cause, in reality, zillions of teams just use burndown as the holy source of how well they are performing, while the toolbox of charts and instruments should be constantly expanded.

You’d also be familiar with some of the terms if you played featureban / getKanban / changeban – Kanban simulation games. 

Scaling frameworks: Less, SAFe, Nexus (well, and DaD for some 🙂

Nexus (and the guide) knowledge is needed as the least minimum, and there are resources available from scrum.org itself. All in all, I find Nexus the easiest to understand given that it’s the same scrum, but with small additions. 

SAFe – you need to be introduced with the framework (on the level of videos with explanations) because this is the most popular Enterprise Agile framework in the world. 

LeSS / LeSS Huge – because this is something much more lightweight than SAFe, and at the same time much more popular (than Nexus). It’s an intuitive framework without many roles, with the very same values as in Scrum at the very heart. 

DaD (Disciplined Agile Delivery) – if you live in PMBoK world that recently transitioned into the Agile domain through connecting via Scott Ambler’s framework 🙂

Note: as per Nexus, scaling starts at 2 or 2+ teams.

I personally don’t have a lot of experience with scaling, thus would finish with this section.

Last, but not least

Experience, experience, and only experience: the understanding and practice of creating Sprint Goal, forging Definition of Done, understanding what’s meant with Definition of Ready (although it’s not an official terminology). How to work with teams in creating those helpers for artifact transparency.

The same applies to scrum events, why and how to facilitate, who can attend, which event provides formal opportunities for certain things.

It’s important to know approaches to order items in backlog (starting from 2017 guide). Ordering (not prioritizing). Because an item with first maximum value in many cases needs to be unblocked first, and this blocker may be lower in value -> hence the ordering. 

A note on certified training for PSM II (you still need to pass the exam, training is not the requirement)

If you need to order your knowledge, or you just want to network and discuss a lot of cases with your trainer – you’re welcome. 

In a nutshell training for PSM II is systematization of everything that you’ve already faced in your day-to-day scrum master routine if:

  • You have 2+ years working as a scrum-master
  • You have experience working with conflicts
  • You’re experienced in facilitating agile-events and meetings
  • You can explain how Agile-principles and Scrum Values are working out in real life

Basically, you remember what Scrum Guide says through your own experience, and in addition cover the basics for metrics, Evidence-Based Management, coaching, and facilitation, working with conflicts, proper and fake stances of a scrum-master, and scaling frameworks. In case it’s a good trainer you also get familiarized with Liberating Structures and dive into Kanban basics.

This all is great, fun and very productive, cause you usually cover real-life cases for 70-80% of the time. But the training is not a required step towards the exam, and it doesn’t give you any perks for having a lower passing score or anything like that. Experience is the ultimate perk.

Exam itself

A page for getting the exam attempt: https://www.scrum.org/professional-scrum-master-ii-certification

Price, time, passing score are the same: $250, 90 min, 85%. 

There’s more than enough time, and since 2018 the test became easier. Personally, I passed it to 97%, with one mistake.

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Phew, hope that my post helps you. Be confident and remember about agile values! There’s nothing extraordinary in this exam!

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