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November 10, 2016

80 SHADES OF GREY - 10 TIPS TO NAVIGATE AMBIGUITIES OF SCRUM & PREPARE FOR THE SCRUM.ORG PSM-1 ASSESSMENT

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Ravi Verma

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SCRUM IS NOT THE END. IT IS A MEANS TO THE END…

The end goal of empirically building strong, self-organizing Scrum Teams to help your business…

  • Increase Sustainable Value

  • Sustainably Decrease Waste &

  • Sustainably Manage Risk


It seems quite straightforward, however, as you start traveling down this path, you may run into complex challenges with no clear, black and white answers. Just lot’s of grey.

So how do you navigate this sea of grey in a way that does not deviate from the three core outcomes of increasing value, decreasing waste and managing risk? In this blog, we will explore some tips to help you and to test your new-found knowledge by completing the Scrum.org PSM-1 assessment.
THE PSM-1 ASSESSMENT
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.
ACCEPTANCE CRITERIA
I consider the PSM-1 to be a risk assessment & 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 they will encounter in the application of Scrum?

  • Will our Scrum team members apply their theoretical knowledge to tackle challenges in implementation of Scrum in an ethical & effective way?



SO THAT...
We have strong, self-organizing Scrum Teams that help our business…


  • Increase Sustainable Value

  • Sustainably Decrease Waste &

  • Sustainably Manage Risk



CHALLENGES
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 time-box 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 2 or more right answers. There are seldom any black or white answers. Just plenty of grey. It is possible that all 80 questions that you get in your assessment are in grey.

80 shades of grey.

So here are 10 Tips to help you navigate the ambiguity, uncertainty and complexity of Scrum and the PSM-1 assessment...
TIP #1 - EMPIRICISM
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 & Scrum.

Here is a short summary adapted from the Wikipedia article - 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.


TIP #2 -  AGILE
Understand what Agile Software Development is. A quick summary is available at the Agile 101 page 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.




TIP #3 - MANIFESTO
Understand the Agile Manifesto and the 4 dimensions along which we must continuously make trade-off's 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.
TIP #4 - PRINCIPLES
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.


Start applying these 12 Agile Principles as you evaluate options in the PSM-1 assessment. Sometimes, you may have to choose the least desirable option from among many undesirable options.
TIP #5 - THE NEW NEW PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT GAME
Read the Harvard Business Review article by Takeuchi & Nonaka, that was a key inspiration for Scrum - The New, New Product Development Game. This white paper will teach you 6 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 & artifacts of Scrum.
TIP #6 - SCRUM!
Read the Scrum Guide - the official definition of Scrum. Internalize the roles, events & activities & artifacts of Scrum. Pay special attention to differences between the Scrum Team & 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 & 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.
TIP #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. So 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.
TIP #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 (tm) framework - Evidence Based Management for Software Organizations.

This framework suggests 3 KVA's (Key Value Areas) and 11 KPI's (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 (tm) framework in the PSM-1 assessment, being familiar with the thinking may help you choose the right option from the sea of grey.
TIP #9 - MINDSET
I once heard Agile Thought Leader, Author & 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 strait jacket without the right mindset. Without the right mindset, you may mis-interpret what the Scrum Guide says and pick the wrong answer on the PSM-1 assessment.

But mindset is such a cliche. How can you get the right mind-set? One possible way is to learn from the thinking of advanced practitioners. Here are three ways in which you could get the Scrum Mindset

TIP #10 - PRACTICE!
If we were to eat our own dog-food, we would use empiricism and evidence to test our readiness for navigating the ambiguities of Scrum and 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. But the converse may not be true - you may get 95%+ on the Scrum Open and still fail the PSM-1 assessment unless you apply the tips I have recommended.
WHAT NEXT...?
You now have a backlog of learning to prepare for navigating the ambiguities of Scrum and passing 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!