I made it. Over the last years, I have spent some amount of time obtaining the highest of Agile Pokemon badges: the Professional Scrum Trainer. I have to admit this is one of the best moments in my career so far.
It’s not an easy thing to pull off. The criteria are quite clear but challenging. By sharing my journey, I hope to inspire all of you that would like to start this journey of your own.
Inspiring and helping people is the main focus
In a previous article, I talked about the impact burnout had on me. I don’t remember exactly who told me this, but his advice stuck with me ever since:
You spend about a third of your life working. Make sure you get a job you enjoy, so you won’t throw all that time away.
That opened my eyes. Why am I working a job I don’t fully enjoy? And why do so many people with me? After returning back to work, I knew I had wanted to help other people make their work-life a bit more enjoyable. Even if it was just a ripple.
I already obtained my Professional Scrum Master I (PSM I) certificate. That empirical way of working was a big shift in mentality for me, something that felt a lot more natural. After doing some research, I found that I could connect, inspire, and help a big group of people by becoming a Professional Scrum Trainer for Scrum.org. The vision and mentality of the people connected to this organization resonate really well with me. Some might relate more with their competitors, but to me this was it. I set my sight on becoming a PST. Now what? Where do I start?
The application form felt like a hill
The requirements themselves are transparent. You can find them on their website right here (it varies a bit depending on what path you’re taking). The requirements for step one are as follows:
- 4+ years of experience as Scrum Master
- You’ve provided classroom training and coaching to people using Scrum
- You’ve passed the PSM I exam with 95% or more
Hmm, this was challenging at that point. I passed the exam with 96%, that’s fine. I’ve provided training (once, but still). Double-check. But as for the 4 years, I didn’t check that just yet. Now what? I decided to proceed to step 2 and try my luck.
Step 2 is filling out an extensive form that zooms in on your experience and motivation. What has been a highlight story? Describe your experience using the Scrum framework? Describe your experience teaching a class on Scrum? Why do you want to become a PST? I wanted to fill this out as well as I could. It took me nearly two hours at the time, but I thought “better safe than sorry”. It felt like a hill, but I’ve had bigger challenges. I filled out the form around July 2018.
Note that this step doesn’t require any fee, except for the $150 exam of PSM I.
Videocall and next steps
After waiting for about a month, I got invited for a videocall to further discuss my motivation and experience with Daphne Harris. Daphne is in charge of the PST selection and guidance process. She’s absolutely wonderful. Tough, but fair. We talked for about an hour, more in detail, and zoomed in on specific situations and how I dealt with those as a Scrum Master. Also, she was curious about my “why”. What made me that passionate to become a PST?
I got told that I need at least a year more experience to start the journey, but she felt I had the right mindset and mentality to continue.
Even though I knew my experience was too light before applying, I had hoped that I could still continue and the 4 years weren’t that hard of a requirement. It was, but for the better. Additionally more teaching was needed.
But, I wouldn’t let this drag me down. I started to define ideas that I could do to get more knowledge and ideas that I could directly apply. At the time, a few gentlemen in the name of Barry Overeem and Christiaan Verwijs just created the PSMII class and I decided to reach out to them for advice. Long story short, Barry had two pieces of advice for me:
- Take the new PSM II class
- Ask Scrum.org for a coach to support you through the process
I took the class (sorry Barry, it was at a competitor) and aced the exam. The coaching part is not something that was actively promoted back then, and I’m not even sure it is now. You can ask for it nonetheless. The person that got tasked with the terribly heavy duty of coaching me, was the wonderful (and now colleague) Laurens Bonnema! Awesome dude, very clear on the expectations and feedback, and a ton of stories.
Another highlight in this journey has been my interaction with the great Gunther Verheyen. We had a long lunch together and discussed how the process goes, challenges, and things that I could do. What I remember all too well is how calm, yet passionate Gunther is about Scrum and the way he can articulate organizational pain points really well.
I was staggered by the fact that I was sitting there with a legend in the field. I can’t thank you enough, Gunther.
Again, one step closer and I felt more supported and less running solo than I did before.
Slaying the mighty beast that is called PSM III
In all my arrogance, and also insatiable drive to prove to everyone, I could pass these things WITHOUT the expected 4 years of experience, I started studying for the PSM III exam. This particular exam is different from its brothers. This one consists of 34 mostly essay-based questions. There are two or three multiple gamble questions, but still, 31 open questions remain. The timebox at the time was 2 hours, which has now changed to 2,5.
Here’s in short what I did mostly:
- I literally copied the Scrum Guide five times with pen and paper, making visual memories of the theory
Read Gunther Verheyen’s Scrum: A Pocket Guide 10 times, slowly, and with attention
- Searched for every example question the internet has to offer
Feeling prepared for a marathon, I took the exam. 89.6% score. I felt proud, yet heartbroken at the same time, as the benchmark to continue at the time was 95% (now 90). Making a little sidestep in this story, to date I passed the exam a whopping five times, but only once passed the 90% mark. My main takeaways from this are A: with every score below 90% I experienced consecutive new levels of frustration I never knew were possible, and B: how important crisp and concise answers in this exam really are, supported with war stories from time to time. Also, I’m fairly certain I’m holding a record for the amount of PSM III passes beyond 85%.
To continue where I left off before sidestepping, I now passed the exam, but still had to work on my experience. I’ll skip the details, just believe me when I say I did.
Flying out to Burlington
YES, I could continue to attend the Train the Trainer (TtT). I signed up to attend the TtT in November 2019, at the Scrum.org HQ in Burlington, Massachusetts. In my mind I was preparing for the most daunting experience I would ever face. This is a three-day event. The first two days are an actual PSM I class, with people who are actual students, followed by a day specifically honing in on your and your fellow PST candidates' ability to convey the language of Scrum and attitude as a trainer. My trainer at the time was the amazing Stephanie Ockerman. . What I love about her are her unambiguous communication and constructive feedback.
This shot is taken during one of the first two days
In hindsight, I was making a fuss in my head about nothing. I got to fly out to Burlington (taking into account that TtTs are held across the globe, this just fitted my agenda best), meet wonderful people, do some sightseeing in and around Boston, and went home with feedback that would only help me become better. As with the PSM III assessment, I needed to work on the crispness and conciseness of my answers. Looking back it’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
Procrastination and refocussing
Then 2020 set off with a fresh batch of setbacks in motivation with COVID showing up. That really hit me hard. Working from home took time to get adjusted to, my three kids constantly being home (and homeschooling), not able to visit my elderly parents for months on end, the whole lot. I’m not saying I hated everything because I've seen my kids grow up more than I ever will when returning back to a relative normal. But it did hit my ability to focus on the PSM III. I read some stuff, prepared a little bit, and attempted the exam once.
The thing with this specific exam is that if you fail twice (in this case not passing the 90%), you have to wait for half a year to retry. As you might have guessed by now, that happened to me. That was a new blow to my motivation. Down, but not out though.
June 2021. I finally passed 90%. This was a massive relief. This gave me a boost in motivation and I could FINALLY continue to the peer review, basically the final stage in the process.
Peer review and coteaching
In the meanwhile, I’ve been teaching quite some courses, hosted a bunch of meetups, and got used to speaking to the biggest names in the industry with my podcast. I felt confident but was also prepared by Laurens that most people fail to pass on the first or even the second go. I assumed I wouldn't be given green light right away, but I’d enjoy the experience and learn for the better.
The peer review is where a panel of roughly four PSTs roleplay as if they’re attending your PSM I class. The first assignment is teaching about a specific part of the Scrum framework. What part is up to you to decide. This is followed by a round of questions on that topic, and then feedback on how you did on the teaching part. After that, all other questions on the PSM I content can be asked by the attending ‘students’, and you’ll be assessed on how well you answer the questions and tie in some short but useful experience examples. Ultimately you’ll get feedback and whether you can continue the journey or not.
On the first attempt, I wasn’t allowed to continue just yet, again with the advice to make my answers more according to the Scrum lingo, more crisp and concise. I can get a little fuzzy and dive right into practice examples and get lost in moving away from theory. The objective is to first stay true to Scrum theory briefly but to the point. Then adding an example for helping students to understand theory and practice. The feedback wasn’t unfamiliar by now, so I drilled myself afterward to make that stick.
On the second attempt, I had some annoying and unfortunate audio issues, that inhibited my attendees to hear the majority of my teaching part. Which is quite essential in a class. As I already did two peer reviews and five PSM III exams, I got the option to coteach with existing PSTs and get feedback from them in order to continue and finalize the journey.
I cotaught two, of which one in my native language. The feedback I got was awesome. Daphne luckily agreed with that. I finally received the confirmation I would be welcomed to the community (after some finishing steps, like license payment, agreeing on terms, etc.).
A joyful journey
This, for me, has been a multiple-year journey. It doesn’t take that long for others, and for some, it takes even longer. But even as I’ve definitely felt frustrated at times, I now understand the toughness of the process. It ensures that PSTs speak the same language and that a quality trainer is standing in front of the class.
For those about to start their journey, here are my main takeaways:
- Assume it will not be a smooth ride till the end
- Find likeminded people to practice with
- Read the Scrum Guide. And again. And again.
- Ask PSTs to coteach with, you’ll always learn something new. Some might say no, and that’s okay. But dare to be courageous and ask.
- Most of all, enjoy the ride. I felt it was a really rewarding one, but forgot to enjoy it at times
Also, I’ve gotten to terms with the idea that I really don’t know anything. There is so much still to learn, experiences to share, new concepts to learn, and facilitation techniques to incorporate. This doesn’t take away the fact that I can provide an awesome course for my students, but it’s good to remind myself that there is no end-state in this. If I can help out anyone on this journey, feel free to connect via LinkedIn or the Mastering Agility Discord community.
On to the next step!