Reflecting on the PSM II Experience, Part 2

In my previous post, I discussed my experience with the PSM II Certification exam. That’s what everyone wants the low-down on, right? Straight to the “tips and tricks”. But as I also discussed previously, if you’re seeking out the PSM II Certification, or any certification for that matter, for the purpose of padding a resume, you’re missing the point. Sure, everyone loves to get that blue badge added to their profile. And it feels good to add PSM II to your e-mail signature. But for me, the real value was in the two days I spent with other Scrum Masters, sharing stories, working through exercises, and doing a lot of personal inspection of my Agile journey so far.

Facilitation and format

My training took place in Cincinnati, Ohio with one of the finest facilitators I have ever had the privilege of working with, Mark Wavle. Mark has been a key figure in my Agile career. I’ve taken his training on two other occasions. He is soft-spoken, funny, and honestly one of the smartest Agilists I know.

The training was very informal. There was a PowerPoint deck, but we didn’t use it. The room was arranged in a circle with no tables, only the obligatory pile of Post-its and Sharpies in the center. We didn’t realize it at first, but Mark conducted each of the exercises using different Liberating Structures. It really helped the introverts in the class. One of the most basic Liberating Structures we employed was 1–2–4-All, which functions exactly how it sounds. Our facilitator posed a scenario and then asked us to individually come up with an example that illustrated resolving the scenario. Next, we formed into pairs and shared our individual examples, followed by groups of four, and eventually the entire group. Using this structure brought the introverts into a group setting much more comfortably, and also provided validation to those who may have been uncomfortable with their examples. It also had the effect of helping us streamline similar streams of thought into clear, concise examples that we used going forward. I highly recommend anyone who facilitates meetings to learn the various Liberating Structures and employ them frequently.

The value of peer feedback

No certification, book, or website can substitute for in-person peer discussion and feedback. This was truly the most valuable part of the training. Don’t tell any of the facilitators, but it would be a value a twice the price!

There’s a certain amount of validation one gets in this training, and it’s reassuring knowing that your experience isn’t an aberration. The truth is, most companies are struggling with their Agile transformation, and the reasons are not dissimilar. Recurring themes such as management-level transformation, buy-in, and culture-clash are shared experiences among Agilists. The training, at least for me, was a very helpful form of therapy.

Ideas shared between class members proved invaluable. Regardless of your place on the transformation progress chart, you’ll find at least a couple other people who have “been there, done that” that have tremendous suggestions. Likewise, my suggestions seemed well-received. I think it’s entirely appropriate to take a list of your top 2–3 issues with you to class. You’re likely to find creative and effective ways to address them.

During the course, there were several opportunities to receive more personal feedback, and the safe environment created by the facilitator made it easy to absorb this information in a constructive way. In particular, I received a suggestion that my passion for certain subjects, while admirable, was somewhat off-putting at times. This is something I wasn’t really aware of. I always try to temper my more lively opinions with humor, but sometimes it’s best to keep things simple and straight-forward.

There was also a lot of the “tips and tricks” variety of knowledge sharing. Everyone had a new resource to share that others had never heard of. I was extremely happy to have found the Agile Water Cooler Discord channel via a fellow attendee. I was also very happy to share the Serious Scrum community, and a little surprised to hear how few people knew of it.

After class

The end of the two-day class wasn’t the end for the students. I have kept in touch with a number of people I met, and we continue the spirit of sharing that we experienced during our PSM II training. We all shared our experience taking the certification exam and helped each other work toward that certification milestone.

Resetting expectations

As I mentioned previously, the PSM II training class really reset my personal expectations for my role as a Scrum Master. Most importantly, it put me back on a path to coaching. I suspect a number of Scrum Masters get lost in the proverbial weeds over time. Too much reporting, too much admin, not enough active listening and servant leadership. Early on I focused far too much on making sure my JIRA boards were pristine, and that velocity and burn-down charts were looking good. If you approach the role from the mindset of an admin, you’re missing the point. Being a Scrum Master is about guiding a team to achieve the best possible version of itself. If you focus on that, everything else will fall into line.

I’ll close with a short anecdote about how my thinking has changed since the PSM II class. Recently I took the Scrum Master role for a different team in my organization. Upon joining, I noticed the daily stand-ups were taking place in an area at the end of their row of desks, with a screen that was too high to be comfortable, and with a walkway in front of them. I asked if they wanted a somewhat less distracting environment to hold the stand-up in and then set about finding a solution. I ended up spending a day putting together a mobile cart with an easy hook-up and a much better position out of the way of foot traffic. A year or two ago I might not have thought this was important, preferring to spend my time looking at the sprint board. But this was a legitimate impediment for the team. One that was making their stand-ups less productive. A day of sweating and cursing at screws removed that.

I believe servant leadership means being a servant in all ways. That doesn’t mean acquiescing to questionable ideas or doing admin work because no one else wants to do it. But it does mean being willing to get your hands dirty sometimes. Don’t be afraid to serve your teams in new and unusual

Scrum Master, PSM II, unabashedly committed to transparency and team autonomy. I also write on Medium for Serious Scrum.

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