Building an Agile Organization Part 3


Remember the angry development VP from Part 1. He had hired a certified Scrum Master and found him inadequate. This VP made the assumption that the CSM certification meant the person was qualified to help his organization. He found out it only meant the person was certified as having attended a Scrum Alliance scrum master class.

In Part 2, I presented the steps I took to create valid certifications the VP and you could have counted on, valid certifications that someone could also use to test and prove their Scrum knowledge

In this edition, Part 3, we’ll look at what is now available to you.  You are now equipped to evaluate the validity of the certification if it is one that came from, the foundry from which the assessment was built and improved. These assessments are the result of five years of continuous authoring by myself and many skilled Scrum practitioners. These practitioners have helped organizations like yours.

If the applicant possesses one of the following certifications, you will know both their knowledge and the background of what they had to do to gain the certification.

There are three levels of certification:

  • Fundamental – possesses knowledge of how to use Scrum to perform their role in the Scrum team. They are ready to join a Scrum team.
    To gain these certifications the person must score at least 85% on the assessment. To prepare, the person studies the Scrum Guide, takes the equivalent open assessment until a perfect score has been obtained (repeat), and has been part of a Scrum Team.
    The questions consist of true/false and multiple choice.
  • Advanced – has used Scrum to build software and products and is skilled in doing so. These people can take on leadership roles in Scrum projects and products.
    These people usually have over three years of experience to pass the assessment. In practicing Scrum they have to have failed as well as succeeded, and learned from their failures. They usually take the equivalent open assessment to prepare.
    Case studies are presented in the assessment. The applicant is presented with true/false and multiple choice questions about how to handle the situation.

To gain these certifications the person must score at least 85% on the assessment.

  • Distinguished – has extensive practice using Scrum to build software and products in difficult situations. They can serve effectively as coach, trainer, consultant, overall leader of large efforts and Scrum implementations.

This certification is a combination of essay and multiple/choice. The essay questions ask what should be done in common, difficult Scrum development and management situations.

To gain these certifications the person must score at least 85% on the assessment. All coaches and trainers have achieved a score of 95% or higher. Nothing but extensive experience prepares a person for this assessment.

The assessments and corollary certifications are:

PSM I – Fundamental

  • Professional Scrum Master I (PSM I) – understands Scrum as described in the Scrum Guide and the concepts of applying Scrum. This assessment has an emphasis on the role of the Scrum Master.
  • Professional Product Owner I (PSPO I)– creating value through emergent requirements and empirical focusing of Scrum Teams to meet goals.
  • Professional Scrum Developer I (PSD I)– working in a cross-functional Scrum Team of developers (programmers, testers, designers, analysts) using modern development tools and practices to create regular increments of shippable software.
  • Scaled Professional Scrum (SPS)– leadership of multiple teams in small to very large development efforts using Nexus and Nexus+ frameworks and exoskeletons.

PSM II – Advanced

  • Professional Scrum Master II (PSM II)– knows how to be Scrum Master for one or more Scrum teams, understands the underlying principles of Scrum and can effectively apply Scrum in complex, real-world situations.
  • Professional Product Owner II (PSPO II) – can effectively create value for a significantly sized product or system through effective management of Product Backlog and delegation to supporting Product Owners.

PSM III – Distinguished

  • Professional Scrum Master III (PSM III) – is your best shot at having Scrum work on a project, program, product, and organization. This level proves that you have a deep understanding of the application of Scrum, Scrum practices and the Scrum Values.  You have proven that you have the ability to apply Scrum in a variety of complex team and organizational situations.

All of these people have a common understanding of Scrum. They have applied it and you can count on their knowledge and underlying skills. If the applicant does not hold the appropriate certification, make it a requirement that they take this assessment and gain Professional Scrum certification before you hire them.

However, you still must interview these applicants to validate their appropriateness to your context, technologies, and needs. Scrum practitioners in your organization conduct the best interviews.

I’ve worked with many organizations using Scrum. Efforts almost always include culture change, technology and skill improvement, and gradual improvement in value.

The one problem that I shouldn’t encounter is the tower of Babel. Scrum Teams often have different understandings of Scrum roles, artifacts, and events. They don’t even share common wording (Daily Scrum, or Daily Standup, or Daily Meeting, etc.). This creates an unacceptable and unneeded impediment to improvement and results in unproductive arguments and waste.

Ensure that everyone has the appropriate certifications to minimize the problem. If individuals cannot pass the relevant assessments, send them to the related class for further instruction. If they still cannot pass, they should not be part of your Scrum development efforts.

I hope this three-part discussion of how to build an agile organization has helped you. I’ve presented a solution to finding and assigning the right people to Scrum development.

You can take the Scrum Open Assessments which remain free here or learn more about the certification assessments.   

15 thoughts on “Building an Agile Organization Part 3

  1. All that BS about SAFe and now who is trying to setup monetizing Agile? Ken thanks for practicing transparency, really. Did anyone ever bitch about the money printing machine that the closed, good old boy network of CSMT’s made? No. Those guys were printing money and sending back ‘certfied’ ignorance. Never heard you complain about that. A framework for Agile at scale had to be developed and it has matured greatly over time. Most of my time is money so what if SAC made money. It was a lot of work. How do you feed your family?

  2. The question one has to ask themselves is: am I out to make money and I will do whatever I can do to so, or do I think this is the right thing to do and how do I make money from it.

    • So, for some reason you believe you can pass moral judgment on others by believing what others intentions are must be reality. We all live our lives by our experiences, even ones that happened seconds ago – they define us and how we will act. Dean’s experiences made his method of approaching this inevitable – if you know his past. Was he doing whatever he could do to make money or was doing what he only intrinsically knew how to do? Ask yourself this, was attacking another man’s hard work in the same industry as you who was trying to solve a perceived problem the ‘right’ thing to do? Do you hold the belief of living your life by, “Doing the next right thing?’ Honestly, any regrets?

      I believe in your right to make money off your decades of experience in this field and your part in defining a new industry that I’ve been able to profit from also – and make some companies much more successful. I’m grateful for your work and it has value. It’s a small percentage that lives their lives altruistically and that’s fine too. We need people that selflessly help others with no desire for remuneration. But, me, you, Dean, and the majority of humanity learn, work, contribute with the hope and expectation of being paid for our services and we all go about it in different ways – mostly honest. I agree with most of your article and kudos to you for developing levels of certification that will put money in your account. You worked hard for it. Don’t some of us deserve the same respect?

  3. Ken, looking back to my first comment I’ll pull a Trump and say ‘I have said some things I regret.’ Notice he never apologized but hey, that’s a whole different discussion that isn’t necessary here. I pulled attention away from your intent of this BLOG entry. I am passionate and there are more parallels between your path and SAC than you know. So let me a better man than Trump. I apologize. Please continue on with your passion and thank you.

  4. Ken this is your BLOG and I have no control. Can you delete these posts. I want this to be about your current work not old-worn-out discussions.

  5. This new assessment framework is an extremely intelligent and great effort! Definitely ground-breaking mechanism/system for agile assessment, a must-have per-requisite for all people want to be agile practitioners/facilitator for teams.

  6. Hey Ken,

    As someone training for my PSM at the moment, I have read the scrum guide over a number of times. I took my first attempt at the test in January this year. Unfortunately I failed with a 76%. Which is fine, I just need to spend more time on learning.
    What I did find slightly irritating however, was the fact that on the test were questions about Sprint 0. This isn’t in the scrum guide anywhere and so I wasn’t expecting it on the test. I’ve looked around and nobody can give me a solid definition of what sprint 0 should be, let alone everyone agreeing on it 🙂
    Do you stand behind the idea of sprint 0 and if not, why is it on the PSM test?
    Looking to take my second shot at the test soon, just want to be as prepared as possible.

    • Of course you can have sprint ‘0’ or sprint ‘bluta’; naming it doesn’t define a sprint. Having a PSPI at the end would count as a sprint. One can also name sprint ‘0’ as “January’. However it is common, for sprint ‘0’ to indicate a non-sprint.

      • It is nice to read a blog that gives such clear points, especially whenmost articles are trash. How many articles does your team usually produce in any given year? I actually felt my mind expanding when I browsed your points. When you put good people with a common goal in a room together, they are sure to connect over common goals. If you ever began a gang, I’d be the first to sign up. Your website has a certain aura surrounding it.

  7. Ken, as someone who is trying to champion Agile for non software development areas, I appreciate the focus on the framework itself and not the application. My biggest challenge has been dispelling the mindset that Agile will not work for this, that, and the other.

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