The PSM-1 assessment is a foundational assessment from Scrum.org to gauge basic knowledge of Scrum Fundamentals. Many recruiters, hiring managers, and Scrum Team members use this assessment as a way to screen out candidates who want to join the team.
I consider the PSM-1 to be a risk assessment and management technique. Decision makers are looking at current or prospective Scrum Team member(s) and trying to figure out:
- Do our Scrum Team members have a solid theoretical understanding of Scrum fundamentals?
- Do our Scrum Team members understand the practical challenges that they will encounter in the application of Scrum?
- Will our Scrum team members apply their theoretical knowledge to tackle challenges in the implementation of Scrum in an ethical and effective way?
Why bother? What’s the big deal? What is the desired outcome? We want to have a strong, self-organizing Scrum Teams that help our business:
- Increase sustainable value
- Sustainably decrease waste
- Sustainably manage risk
Unlike some other Scrum Assessments, which are hard to fail, the PSM-1 is very hard to pass. There are 80 multiple choice questions that must be answered within a 60-minute timebox to get a passing score of 85% or higher. This means that you can only get 12 answers wrong.
Now this might not seem to be too big of a deal, and depending on how strong you are in this area, perhaps, it isn’t. However, some people severely underestimate the complexity and ambiguity in the questions.
Many questions have two or more right answers. There are seldom any black or white answers, just plenty of gray. It is possible that all 80 questions that you get in your assessment are in gray.
80 shades of gray.
How can you prepare for the ambiguity, uncertainty, and complexity of the PSM-1 assessment? Many of my students and clients have asked me this question, so I thought I would share my top 10 tips.
Empiricism is the heart of Agile and Scrum. Before you take the PSM-1 assessment, I would recommend that you understand what empiricism is and how it might fit into Agile and Scrum.
Here is a short summary adapted from the Wikipedia article on empiricism.
- Empiricism in the philosophy of science emphasizes evidence, especially as discovered in experiments.
- All hypotheses and theories must be tested against observations of the natural world rather than resting solely on a priori reasoning, intuition, or revelation.
- Knowledge is based on experience.
- Knowledge is tentative and probabilistic, subject to continued revision and falsification.
Understand what Agile Software Development is, check out this quick summary on the Agile Alliance site.
What is Agile?
The ability to create and respond to change in order to succeed in an uncertain and turbulent environment.
What Is Agile Software Development?
Agile Software Development is an umbrella term for a set of methods and practices based on the values and principles expressed in the Agile Manifesto. Solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams utilizing the appropriate practices for their context.
Understand the Agile Manifesto and the four dimensions along which we must continuously make trade-offs in the field of complex software delivery.
Manifesto for Agile Software Development
We are uncovering better ways of developing
software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work, we have come to value:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.
As you evaluate possible answers in the PSM-1 assessment, you could come back to the Agile Manifesto and reflect on which option might help us best in staying true to the manifesto in service of increasing value, decreasing waste and managing risk exposure for a business.
Internalize the 12 Agile Principles that can help our teams make decisions in the midst of uncertainty, ambiguity, and pressure in the high-stakes business of complex software delivery.
Principles Behind the Agile Manifesto
We follow these principles:
Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer
through early and continuous delivery
of valuable software.
Welcome changing requirements, even late in
development. Agile processes harness change for
the customer’s competitive advantage.
Deliver working software frequently, from a
couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a
preference to the shorter timescale.
Business people and developers must work
together daily throughout the project.
Build projects around motivated individuals.
Give them the environment and support they need,
and trust them to get the job done.
The most efficient and effective method of
conveying information to and within a development
team is face-to-face conversation.
Working software is the primary measure of progress.
Agile processes promote sustainable development.
The sponsors, developers, and users should be able
to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
Continuous attention to technical excellence
and good design enhances agility.
Simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount
of work not done – is essential.
The best architectures, requirements, and designs
emerge from self-organizing teams.
At regular intervals, the team reflects on how
to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts
its behavior accordingly.
5. The New, New Product Development Game
Read the Harvard Business Review article by Takeuchi and Nonaka that was a key inspiration for Scrum – The New, New Product Development Game. This white paper will teach you six common characteristics that helped 6 different teams successfully introduce new products before their competitors, in a fiercely competitive environment. This article might shed some new light on the roles, events, activities, and artifacts of Scrum.
Read the Scrum Guide, the official definition of Scrum. Internalize the roles, events, activities, and artifacts of Scrum. Pay special attention to differences between the Scrum Team and Development Team. Carefully distinguish between words like must, may, should and could. The PSM-1 assessment may have questions that test your ability to distinguish between immutable rules of Scrum and the recommendations of Scrum.
Watch the video in which Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, the co-creators of Scrum, explain the reason for introducing Scrum Values in the 2016 Changes in the Scrum Guide. Apply the Scrum Values to eliminate invalid options in the PSM-1 assessment and get closer to the right answers.
7. Practical Challenges
Once you start implementing Scrum, you will likely run into some common practical challenges. As you review the Scrum Guide for guidance on how to navigate these challenges, it is possible that you may not get definitive answers. The Scrum Guide is intentionally descriptive and not prescriptive. It intentionally does not prescribe responses to every conceivable challenge Scrum Teams might face. If you are new to implementing Scrum, how might you respond to these challenges?
One possible way is to read the book Agile Project Management with Scrum by Ken Schwaber, the co-creator of Scrum. This book is a series of real-world Scrum challenges with some suggested ways to respond that stay true to the rules Scrum. Reading this book might help you prepare for some tricky scenarios that are presented in the PSM-1 assessment.
8. Business Value
Scrum is a means to the end goals of empirically increasing value, decreasing waste and managing risk exposure for your business. As you evaluate options in the PSM-1 assessment, you may have to decide which option best supports these goals. One possible way to understand how decisions could have a domino effect on business value is to look at the EBMgt ™ framework – Evidence Based Management for Software Organizations.
This framework suggests three KVAs (Key Value Areas) and 11 KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that might indicate how effective an organization is in conceiving, delivering and sustaining business value. Although you won’t get questions about the EBMgt™ framework in the PSM-1 assessment, being familiar with the thinking may help you choose the right option from the sea of gray.
I once heard Agile Thought Leader, Author, and PST Gunther Verheyen say that there is a distinction between what the Scrum Guide says and what the Scrum Guide means. The Scrum Guide was intentionally and rigorously designed to be minimalist, it can become a straight jacket without the right mindset. Without the right mindset, you may misinterpret what the Scrum Guide says and pick the wrong answer on the PSM-1 assessment.
Mindset is such a cliche. How can you get the right mindset? One possible way is to learn from the thinking of advanced practitioners. Here are three ways in which you could get the Scrum Mindset
- Read blogs from Ken Schwaber.
- Read blogs from Gunther Verheyen.
- Watch Scrum Pulse, where Agile Experts explore practical challenges and recommendations in the implementation of Scrum.
If we were to eat our own dog food, we would use empiricism and evidence to test our readiness for passing the PSM-1 assessment. One possible way to do this is to take the free Scrum Open Assessment. I tell my students that getting below 95% on the Scrum Open assessment indicates a high risk of failure in the PSM-1 assessment. However, the opposite may not be true; you may get 95%+ on the Scrum Open and still fail the PSM-1 assessment you apply the tips that I have recommended.
You now have a backlog of learning to prepare for the PSM-1 assessment. If you want a quick reference version of this blog, check out my Presentation on SlideShare. Plan your Sprint(s), start scrumming, and don’t wait too long to ship it!
Keep calm and Scrum on!