My journey with PSK I, and how I passed

Last post 04:00 pm July 15, 2018
by Lars Devocht
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06:10 am May 24, 2018

There's been a lot of discussion on this forum about the difficulty of the new Professional Scrum with Kanban I assessment.
I took the exam yesterday, and passed with a relatively high score, so I will share my preparation techniques, and advice for anyone else thinking of taking the exam.

Things that I think made the exam easier for me:

  • I am a native English speaker.
  • I have previously taken a Professional Scrum Master course and have passed PSM I, PSM II, PSPO I, and PAL I.
  • I regularly get to talk to Professional Scrum Trainers and motivated Scrum and Agile professionals at local meetup events.
  • I am very familiar with the Scrum Guide.

Things that I think might have made the exam harder for me:

  • I had not had a lot of prior experience of working in organizations where Kanban was done well.
  • I had not previously seen Scrum and Kanban used well together.
  • For someone with my level of Scrum knowledge, until recently I think my Kanban knowledge was below average.

Preparation:

  • I have been following the discussion on this subject (particularly from Scrum.org) since this webinar came out in August 2017.
  • I read the Kanban Guide for Scrum teams.
  • I took plenty of note of the things being said on this forum in a thread about the difficulty of the exam.
    As if it was needed, this provided a vital warning not to be complacent; as some very smart, knowledgeable and experienced people were open about having taken and not passed the exam.
  • I read the Kanban Guide for Scrum teams.
  • I watched this video.
  • I read the Kanban Guide for Scrum teams.
  • I read Actionable Agile Metrics for Predictability by Daniel Vacanti.
  • I read the Kanban Guide for Scrum teams.
  • I made sure I understood Little's Law.
  • I reminded myself of the assumptions needed for Little's Law to work well (as written in Actionable Agile Metrics for Predictability by Daniel Vacanti).
  • I attended a Professional Scrum with Kanban training course, (I consider myself lucky that this one was led by Steve Porter and Daniel Vacanti).
  • During my train journeys to the class on both days, I read parts of the Kanban Guide for Scrum teams.
  • After I got home from my training, I read the Kanban Guide for Scrum teams.
  • I dived back to the Scrum Guide, for extra clarity about some of the parts of Scrum that are extended by the Kanban Guide.

Taking the exam:

I took the exam within hours of having finished my training.

Scrum.org don't publish percentage results for those who have passed the exam, so I will respect that. I'll simply say that of all the Scrum.org exams I took, this was my second highest score.

I did not drop marks on the Kanban Practices or Scrum Framework sections, but I did drop marks on the Agile Metrics part.

Advice:

  • Understand the new concepts that are introduced by the guide.
  • Don't forget that nothing in the Scrum Guide is invalidated by using Kanban.
  • Understand the ways that the Scrum events may change.
    Particularly consider that some existing non-mandatory practices might no longer be necessary, given the new options provided by also using Kanban.
  • Understand about the Sprint Goal, and how this helps Scrum Teams.
  • Understand the Definition of "Workflow".
  • Understand that Workflow can be entirely within the points where a Development Team works on a PBI, or at other points (e.g. refinement), or at both.
    The Development Team remains in control of the Sprint Backlog, and the Product Owner is still accountable for the Product Backlog.
  • Understand how Workflow can and will be visualized.
  • Understand what Little's Law is (particularly in the form of the relationship between Cycle Time, WIP and throughput), but don't get hung up on the mathematics behind the law.
  • If you have a hard time understanding Little's Law, play the getKanban board game, and at least develop an understanding of the impact of WIP on flow and cycle time.
  • Understand the metrics defined in the Kanban Guide for Scrum Teams, and which metrics are helpful during the various Scrum events.
  • Understand what the SLE is, and the various opportunities this gives to teams throughout the Sprint.
  • Understand the Inspect & Adapt opportunities provided in the Kanban Guide for Scrum Teams, and how they build on those already defined in the Scrum Guide.
  • Think about why Scrum Teams might want to combine Scrum with Kanban, and how doing this effectively will impact their behaviour.
  • Reading Actionable Agile Metrics for Predictability by Daniel Vacanti was the biggest turning point for me, in terms of where I felt I really 'got' the concepts of putting Scrum and Kanban together.
  • If you read and watch the resources I mention, pay attention to what Daniel Vacanti thinks is an unhelpful or harmful practice. It might provide some key words that give you a clue that a particular answer is wrong.
  • Make sure you have a good understanding of the Scrum Guide, as there will probably be questions you can answer entirely from your Scrum knowledge.

Thoughts on the assessment:

I found this an enjoyable and well put-together assessment. Given that it's new, I got the feeling when I went through, that some of the wording of questions could be improved, as I felt on perhaps just one or two occasions that it might have been ambiguous. I expect Scrum.org to continue Inspecting and Adapting to iron out the creases.

All-in-all, I think the criticism levelled against this exam, that it goes in to areas not covered by the Kanban Guide for Scrum Teams, is unfair. However, I honestly don't think I would have come close to passing if I had not at least either attended the training, or read Daniel Vacanti's book. Having done both, and taken the exam, I feel it had elements in common with PSPO I, PSM II and PAL I, in that it relied more on understanding the concepts, than memorising rules from a guide.

My understanding is that the intention has been to keep the Kanban Guide for Scrum Teams as light as possible. It provides extra "rules of the game". To play the game well, you're going to have to develop your knowledge and skills elsewhere.

In terms of difficulty, I would say it is by far the hardest level I assessment I have taken, and actually closer to PSM II; but (if I remember correctly) PSK I has a much narrower subject area than PSM II. Of all the exams I've taken, PSM II is the only one where I feel more preparation was needed.

My final advice:

Prepare well, and good luck!

09:52 am May 24, 2018

How important do you think that reading Actionable Agile Metrics for Predictability actually is, compared to the open content that exists? It's one of the things that I haven't had the opportunity to do yet. For past exams (PSM I and II, PSPO I, and even PAL I), the guides, blogs, and videos were sufficient. You mention reading the book a few times in your post, but do you think that there is sufficient information in the freely available content or should one really purchase, read, and understand the book first?

10:41 am May 24, 2018

Simon - Thank you for taking the time to share your detailed preparation.  You certainly worked hard for this one, congratulations!

While I have not taken the PSK course, I did take the PSM two months ago, which helped me pass the PSM III with a high score.  Point is, the courses really help.

I have Dan's book, which is my next read.

All the best,

11:33 am May 24, 2018

Simon - Thank you for taking the time to share your detailed preparation.  You certainly worked hard for this one, congratulations!

Seconded. This provides excellent, thorough, and much-needed information.

12:57 pm May 24, 2018

How important do you think that reading Actionable Agile Metrics for Predictability actually is, compared to the open content that exists? It's one of the things that I haven't had the opportunity to do yet. For past exams (PSM I and II, PSPO I, and even PAL I), the guides, blogs, and videos were sufficient. You mention reading the book a few times in your post, but do you think that there is sufficient information in the freely available content or should one really purchase, read, and understand the book first?

For clarity, I only read the book once, and dived back just a couple of times to specifically re-read certain pages.

In short, it is not necessary to read that book; but if you're paying for the exam or course anyway, it's a relatively small extra cost, and probably worth the investment. However, there is absolutely no substitute for thoroughly understanding the guides.

Just like PSM II requires an understanding of how the Scrum Guide is applied, PSK I requires an understanding of how the Kanban Guide for Scrum Teams is applied alongside the Scrum Guide.

I don't recall any questions where I felt the answer could only have come from that book or from the course, but having experienced both, I had already been guided more on a route that helped to understand the exam questions.
I think the alternative is that I would have needed to spend a long time implementing Kanban and Scrum badly, inspecting and adapting, and then coming to the same conclusions that have already been well documented by others.

Given the excitement around this topic, I expect we'll see some great free content emerging over the coming months and years, and there will be plenty of other ways to prepare.

02:15 pm May 24, 2018

This is really great information, and very generous of you to share it.  Thanks!

09:33 am May 26, 2018

Arthur, thanks for sharing this.

One item I would add to your (amazing) list is to make sure you read Yuval Yeret's blogs on the Scrum.org site.

10:16 am May 26, 2018

I failed PSK one month ago.

I re-read all the blog articles on https://www.scrum.org/resources/suggested-reading-professional-scrum-ka… + the Kanban Guide for Scrum Teams

I also read "Actionable Agile Metrics for Predictability". For me, it is a "must read" for the PSK, but also a "must read" for my understanding of Kanban above the assessment ;-)

I re-took and passed PSK this morning. The PSK assessment was largely adapted since my first attempt. Now, the difficulty level is on the same as other level I Scrum.org assessment.

03:48 am July 15, 2018

I agree with Olivier - For a Level I, the exam difficulty is reasonable now but not as straight forward as PSM I. 

04:00 pm July 15, 2018

Yuval Yeret's blog helped me most preparing for the questions about metrics. That was the easiest part for me. 

The book is not needed, Daniel Vacanti's blog article and his slides on SlideShare are enough. The book is advanced and very interesting but not easy reading for non-native English speakers. Probably more suitable for the upcoming PSK II *. Klaus Leopold's "Practical Kanban" is more accessible.

How to apply Kanban in a Scrum context with respect for the original Scrum Guide needs more thought. In the beginning using Kanban and the Scrum framework feels like contradictory but after reflection it all make sense. Last but not least... John Coleman's blogs are the source to figure all this out. I also did his training and certified within a week.

* Just guessing ;-)