PAL exam - venting a little here

Last post 11:22 am December 1, 2019
by Olivier Ledru
16 replies
Author
Messages
07:45 pm July 12, 2018

I hope this finds everyone doing well today.

I wanted to get some feedback on the PAL certification.  I have passed the PSM I and PSPO I, read the recommended books, blogs, and sites however I am beyond struggling (frustrated) with this cert exam.  Is it me or is it that there are too many possible "select the best answer" choices in the selections given?  I'm starting to think this is very subjective based on the question creator.  I realize mastery is the objective here but this is a little out of hand.  Maybe that is why only 145 people have passed this since April 25, 2018?  Maybe it just isn't as sought after?  I don't find many comments on the PAL here in the forum, thus my post.

Thanks for listening :)

07:26 am July 14, 2018

Hi Jim,

This will sound like a bit of a boast, but I promise you it's more to do with my own particular agile journey, and I hope it helps you and others who are considering taking the exam or associated training.

I took and passed the PAL I exam a couple of months ago, and I didn't do a lot of specific preparation for it. It's been a busy time for me since then, so I no longer remember much about the questions; but I did personally find that it was one of the easier exams I had taken.

I think the reason I found PAL I straight-forward is the extensive research I've done on Scrum and agility, and involvement I've had in this forum, and with the wider Scrum community at local events. Particularly, I've encountered a lot of smart people (many of them are Professional Scrum Trainers with Scrum.org) who both practice and preach servant-leadership, the Scrum Values, autonomy, and team accountability.

Last year I attended a PSM course led by Gunther Verheyen, and a large part of it was spent on breaking down invalid assumptions about Scrum, or working life in general. This inspired me to dive deeper, and really challenge views that had been planted by default, simply because previous employers and cultural norms had made me think in a certain way.

With this experience (combined with a good understanding of words and phrases that Scrum.org would never put in a correct answer), I was able to answer most questions instinctively.

I think it would be interesting to know how many people have PAL I in combination with various Scrum.org qualifications/training, because my gut feeling is that the pass rate for anyone who already has PSM II will be very high (even though the topics are different), whereas PSM I or PSPO I aren't necessarily that helpful.

Put another way, to pass PAL I, I believe it is necessary to appreciate the values espoused by Scrum.org around servant-leadership and teams, and ideally you will have a good understanding of why the contents of the Scrum Guide exist, rather than just what those contents are.

04:18 pm July 14, 2018

I personally did not study a lot for this exam as I have a good graspy over agile and scrum. It is more or less Agile based and the questions are mostly scenarios and tests your understanding of agile and servant leadership beyond any text book. The exam is not an easy one and is comparable more or less to the PSM II so as Simon mentioned, having the PSM I and PSPO I won’t help a lot or be an indicator in anyway that you will be able to pass the PAL-I. 

Scrum.org did a good job I believe in administering this exam and questions because if the exam were super easy then the credential wouldn’t be as credible and valuable especially that you do them online. 

On the other hand,  I would not call the level of the exam Intermediate, it is definitely a higher level than intermediate so if there is a plan for PAL-II, then this is definitely PAL-II, not PAL-I so a basic and general understanding of agile won’t guarantee that you will pass the current PAL-I so you need a deep understanding of the concepts especially that like you said, there is more than one correct answer and you have to chose the most correct or best answer.

Good Luck ! 

03:02 pm July 15, 2018

To both your points, PSM I and PSPO I are really irrelevant to the PAL outside of the sections relating to a few questions on SM and PO.  While I can appreciate the viewpoint offered here I don't find a direct correlation to Simon's comments regarding what Scrum.org would "never" use in a correct answer and to your point Rami regarding there being more than one correct answer, this is obviously related to the subjectiveness, character of the creator, which is actually open to interpretation for the candidate to select their best answer versus the question creator. (again because there is more than one correct answer)

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

03:26 pm July 15, 2018

there being more than one correct answer, this is obviously related to the subjectiveness, character of the creator, which is actually open to interpretation for the candidate to select their best answer versus the question creator.

This may be the case, but imagine there is a question where a CEO is asked by a stakeholder to intervene when a Product Owner is not functioning well, and the possible answers are:

  • A  The CEO should take the information and pass on the feedback to the Product Owner
  • B  The CEO should overrule the Product Owner
  • C  The CEO should tell the stakeholder that the Product Owner is responsible for maximizing value, and advise the stakeholder to raise the issue at the Sprint Review
  • D  The CEO should raise this at the next Sprint Retrospective 
  • E  The CEO should meet privately with the Scrum Master and Product Owner to discuss the situation

It might be that in real life, there's a better solution than all of these. But perhaps there's one answer that really supports the empiricism of the Scrum framework, bearing in mind that the pillars of empiricism are transparency, inspection and adaptation.

Some answers are completely incompatible with the Scrum Guide (and should be ruled out). For the rest, the best is somewhat subjective, but I feel that there's one that enables empiricism much better than the others.

I believe there was a lot of consistency in the questions, and if it feels open to interpretation, you would probably benefit from getting a feel for the teachings of Scrum.org, perhaps by viewing the webcasts, reading the blog, and following content made by Professional Scrum Trainers.

Note: this is a question that I made up on the spot. It's the kind of topic that may be covered, but as far as I know, the specific question and answers do not feature on the exam.

06:59 pm July 15, 2018

Is it me or is it that there are too many possible "select the best answer" choices in the selections given? 

I can’t recall whether or not there are more “best answer” questions, but I think it would be surprising if this was not the case for a leadership-focused exam. Perhaps an enhanced ability to discern the optimal course of action based on situational context is a characteristic of a good leader.

07:49 pm July 15, 2018

touché Ian!

01:47 am July 16, 2018

The PAL is for Agile Leaders, like Agile Coaches. Agile Coaching is very different than filling the role of Scrum Master and Product Owner. As an Agile Coach, I need to be knowledgeable in Agile and th various frameworks within the umbrella of Agile. As a SM or PO, the focus is primarily, and in many cases strictly, Scrum. Scrum is a bit more refined and direct where as Agile is far more broad. The PAL tests a person’s ability to train others in Agile and they want to make sure that a person taking the exam will be able to look in various scenarios and pick out “the best” approach. In many cases as a SM or PO, there is only 1 option, such as the timeboxes for each event and the differences between the Product Backlog and Sprint Backlog. Agile Leadership, however, is a bit different. You have to be able to interpret Agile from seemingly similar options in the same situation. Case in point is the question/scenario that Simon offered. The PO is not doing his/her job well and the stakeholders complain to the CEO about this; finding the “best” option from an Agile point of view can be challenging because there may be several options that would be acceptable. Answers C and E are both viable options. The CEO should absolutely support the PO and explain to others, even and including customers, that the PO is maximizing value above all so give them some breathing room and trust them. However, I disagree with C in that putting someone on blast in a group setting is definitely not appropriate. That’s why I would say E is the “best” approach in terms of Agile. The CEO relays the feedback to the PO and SM privately so they can work together to resolve the issue.

05:00 am July 16, 2018

Agile Coaching is very different than filling the role of Scrum Master and Product Owner.

I disagree. In a Scrum organization, a good Scrum Master will take on the role that is so often described as being an Agile Coach.

The Scrum Master role is pretty broad, and here are a few things from the Scrum Guide, which I feel support my point:

The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team. The Scrum Master helps those outside the Scrum Team understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren’t. The Scrum Master helps everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team.

...

Understanding and practicing agility

...

Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team

In fact, the only times agile (agility) and leadership (servant-leader, Leading) are mentioned in the Scrum Guide are under the Scrum Master section.

I'm not saying I would make a good CEO (I've never tried doing it), and such a person may make more effective decisions than me, for a whole host of reasons; but keep in mind that the exam definitely has a Scrum flavour, and is of course from Scrum.org, so I think it's reasonable to expect the best answers are considered to be those that support Scrum as explained in the Scrum Guide.

02:35 pm July 16, 2018

I disagree. In a Scrum organization, a good Scrum Master will take on the role that is so often described as being an Agile Coach.

Simon, I believe you missed the context of my comment saying that Agile Coaching is different than a SM and PO. Read the first 4 sentences in my comment above again. In MOST cases, the SM is coaching on Scrum while helping people understand the Agile mindset. How often are SM's coaching on Kanban, XP, DevOps, SAFe, etc etc? Not that often in my experience; that is where the Agile Coach comes in. The SM is (at least should be) an expert in Scrum, they should be "great" at Scrum. Agile Coaches should be more of a "jack of all trades" and be "good" at the multiple frameworks that fall under Agile; not just 1 framework. SM's are coaching the team to stay within the Scrum Framework but an Agile Coach may say that Scrum is not the right path for a team and they should switch to Kanban instead. I don't know many SM's that would do that considering there are no SM's in Kanban so they would basically talk themselves out of their job.

Saying Agile Coaches are different than Scrum Masters does not mean that SM's are not Agile Coaches; it just means there is a difference.

 

09:01 pm July 19, 2018

passus, passer, passed - I truly did not like the exam but it is done.

I spent time on Scrum a pocket guide, Software in 30 days, The Nexus Framework, The Nexus Guide, The Scrum Guide, The Professional Scrum Product Owner, watched the videos here, read the blogs, and read the forums.  I also read most everything over at the Scrum Alliance site.  One point to note here, I found the "Cadence" video here on the Scrum site very informative.

All the best!

06:16 am July 23, 2018

Hi Jim,

 

Would you mind sharing the "Cadence" video URL that you just mentioned?

 

Thanks!

01:10 am December 12, 2018

Hi to all,

 

Anyone of you find useful/valuable the "Agile Leader Learning Path" (https://www.scrum.org/pathway/agile-leader-learning-path) in order to pass the PAL I exam?

 

Thanks a lot,

 

Ismael

07:24 am February 8, 2019
06:36 pm November 30, 2019

Just passed the PAL-I exam myself, with success, but to me, although I found most of the questions fairly easy, there were a few very tough and subjective ones.

Picking the right "best" or "best two" answers to those were HARD. And even after the exam, I was very curious and did quite a bit of search on one or two of them, without knowing if I did get them right or not of course, and I'm still not sure there is a definite "right" answer.

To prepare, I did follow most of the suggested learning path's articles, blogs and videos (but not the very long ones). I was also already quite familiar with Management 3.0 and have had several experiences as coach in various organisations. That helped a lot.

Good luck!

11:22 am December 1, 2019

@Curtis :

"How often are SM's coaching on Kanban, XP, DevOps, SAFe, etc etc?"

Are you sure you are talking about coaching ? Or more probably mentoring/teaching/consulting ?