There are over 360 PSTs worldwide aligned to Scrum.org and this is an amazing community to be a part of. I have had two very difference experiences on my journey to becoming a Professional Scrum trainer (PST). I did my Professional Scrum Master PST in 2017 and then in 2020 started the process to become a PSPO PST. One journey took me 6 months, the other over 2 years. I’m the same candidate and have been a Product Manager for over 10 years, so I didn’t understand how I could get through the PSM process with ease, yet struggled to gain my PSPO PST certification. To become a PST is a privilege and it should rightly be a difficult process to ensure the quality of Scrum.Org trainers is maintained. Here are my learnings from the experience, and my tips for preparing for the PSPO PST Journey and PSPO III exam.
My PSM PST Journey
For my Professional Scrum Master PST qualification, my process was pretty fast as I was through the process within 6 months. It was a very positive and encouraging experience. I did a F2F PSM Train the Trainer (TTT) in another country and got to have a great experience with candidates from different backgrounds and contexts of work. We were all passionate about scrum and helping people solve complex issues. Once through the TTT I did the PSM II and PSM III exams, got great feedback from the peer interview and was licensed to teach PSM. Whilst my main course delivery was PSM and PAL-E, over the past 5 years I have had a few clients ask for PSPO training. I would normally refer them to another PST who delivered that course but in 2020, i decided to add this qualification to my course delivery repertoire as I have been a product Manager in large organisations for the past 15 years.
My PSPO PST Journey
In contrast to my PSM PST experience, gaining my PSPO PST qualification was very different. It was a long, hard and frustrating 2-year journey where I learnt a lot about myself, learning perspectives and the need to pay attention to your exam technique. This time I did a TTT but it was virtual and in an opposite time zone. My PST presentation was conducted at the equivalent of 2am in my time zone. I attempted the PSPO I exam 2 times before getting the required PST passing grade. I think I rushed my preparation and was a bit complacent as i was already a PSM PST. I did far more reading for the PSPO II exam and passed first time. It was PSPO III where I struggled. In my first attempt, I found my time management an issue for the written exam and struggled to finish all the questions within the timebox. Essentially there is 3 mins to answer each question. Once I submitted the exam it took 8 weeks to get the results as the exam. When i got the results, I hadn’t passed. I was devasted as I had studied, felt i knew the material well as had been doing this role for many years. So, I asked for written feedback.
The feedback was helpful as it pointed to some questions I could have answered better and areas for me to explore. The difference between passing and failing was only a few % points but i was really reluctant to retake the test. I discussed my failed exam, bad spelling and time management issues with other colleagues and after some encouragement (and a commercial pressure from clients for this course) I retook the exam 9 months later. It took about 6 weeks to get my result and I failed again and got a similar score to the first time. I didn’t have an answer as to why i got the same result despite taking on board the feedback, doing more reading and preparation. Once I got my feedback, I asked for a virtual meeting with one of the PSPO mentors.
The mentor gave me feedback that he wasn’t sure taking the test again would get a different result but he offered to verbally ask me questions virtually to drill down into what was going wrong. He gave me feedback after these questions and it became really obvious very quickly where I was going wrong. Yes, my time management on written exams and spelling were probably an issue but fundamentally it was my exam technique. It was a very humbling experience.
Here are my tips for preparing for the PSPO III exam:
You have 3 mins per question so make sure you use bullet points as you need to be concise in the answers
Always link the answers back to the elements of the scrum framework and scrum values.
Be specific about which artefact, which event, which commitment, which role is in play for that question and what you are inspecting and adapting?
You will be asked for examples, make sure they are relevant and reinforce your understanding and ability to apply the scrum framework in your context.
Some questions have 3 to 4 parts. It’s not going to help if you answer the first part well and forget to give the 3 examples they ask for (this is points you leave on the table).
Read the blogs, read the suggested reading, look at the learning pathways. It’s about applying the knowledge
Be patient, as it will take 6 weeks before you get your results and feedback
Understand the process and seek help or mentorship from existing PSTs.
If you were a trainer in a class, you probably only have about 2 mins to verbally answer a question and get the learning across as applied to the scrum framework so be succinct in your written answers as well
What I have learnt:
People have different ways of learning and maybe exam format needs to accommodate some of these differences (especially for people of non-English speaking background or neurodiversity)
The immersion programs being offered by Scrum.Org for PSM and PSPO are a great way to consolidate and apply the learning over many weeks and would help to better prepare for the exam
Through my journey as a candidate I received feedback that my answers didn’t make that clear link to the Scrum Guide to show how I knew how to apply my knowledge
Don’t give up if you don’t succeed the first time. people in this community are extremely helpful and willing to support your learning journey
Feedback can be hard to give when it’s not the outcome the candidate was expecting, so I now have more empathy as a practitioner and trainer and try to make the experience for my students a learning experience that also prompts them to keep going on the journey
Special shout out to PST mentor Rob Apmann who very patiently helped me on this learning journey and encouraged me to write this post