The Professional Scrum Product Owner III (PSPO III) certification is Scrum.org’s top certification for Product Ownership. It’s both hard to pass and quite different in style from the others in its family. I found this a very tough exam. At the time of writing, there are only 365 holders of the PSPO III. Out of over 529,000 scrum certificates, just 0.07% of all certificates are PSPO III. Worthier people have no doubt tried and failed to accomplish this. I thought I had failed the exam after the time ran out, though I found out three weeks later I had passed.
The exam consists of both multiple choice and essay questions. Other people who have sat the exam before have said the exam is primarily multiple choice. I can confirm other reports from people from the start of this year. When the updated Scrum Guide 2020 arrived, the exam changed to reflect the update and make this exam much harder. For my exam, I had 20 multiple choice and 15 essay questions. The number of essay questions has gone up.
The multiple choice questions themselves are broadly similar to those found in the PSPO II exam. You need to understand the Product Owner (PO) role, how to maximise the value of a product and apply everything you’ve learnt to real world situations. I had some questions about how the PO interacts with a scrum master and development team, along with questions you should be able to answer from the Scrum Guide.
The essay questions are where things got more interesting. I’ve not sat the Professional Scrum Master III exam (yet), and this style of exam was new to me. These questions spanned quite a wide field of subjects. The skill here was being able to context switch very quickly to answer the questions. There is an expectation for different questions, you will be to:
- Answer the theory
- Apply that theory to specific case studies given in the question
- Sometimes, add specific examples from your own experience.
Hearing other people’s experiences passing the PSPO III this year, my pool of essay questions seemed different. There doesn’t seem to be a consistent pattern of how these questions are chosen. While I’m not going to share the questions themselves, my essay questions broadly fell into the following categories:
- Understanding and defining value
- Product backlog management and making decisions on how to maximise a product’s value
- Key Value Areas from the Evidence-Based Management Guide (EBM)
- Scrum artefacts and how a PO and scrum team should use them
- The PO and the relationship with other members of the scrum team, along with stakeholders outside the team
- Technical debt and how that can impact a PO and your product.
How I prepared
- Read the Scrum Guide. It goes without saying you should be able to recite this in your sleep. The EBM is another essential guide to know very well. I would then strongly suggest being very familiar with the Kanban Guide for Scrum Teams and the Nexus Guide.
- I took both the PSPO I and PSPO Advanced training courses in the past. These were excellent. Though, as I took both classes a few years ago, I started by brushing up on the content we covered.
- Completing and knowing every part of the Product Owner Learning Path in your Scrum.org profile.
- My core reading list included (there were many more books):
- The Professional Product Owner: Leveraging Scrum as a Competitive Advantage by Don McGreal and Ralph Jocham
- Zombie Scrum Survival Guide by Johannes Schartau,Christiaan Verwijs and Barry Overeem. This is a great book, even if you think you are a high performing team.
- Scrum Insights for Practitioners: The Scrum Guide Companion by Hiren Doshi
- Software in 30 Days by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland
- User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development by Mike Cohn
- What Customers Want by Anthony Ulwick
- Start with Why by Simon Sinek
- The Lean Startup by Eric Reis
- Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seden
There are many other books on product management which I have found very useful. This recent article from the Product Collective lists many of them. I also love both of Marty Cagan’s books Inspired and Empowered on product management. While they may not directly help you in answering an exam question on Scrum, every product manager should read them. They deserve a special mention as they are excellent.
Some tips as you sit the exam
- I followed the advice many people have given in the past on passing either of the essay exams. Answer all the multiple choice questions first and skip the essay questions. I was hoping for only a handful of essay questions, and I was very disappointed! It took me around 40 minutes to answer all the essay questions, leaving me around 1 hour 20 minutes to answer the essay questions. That was then a little over five 5 minutes per essay question. This is not much time at all, and you’ll be stunned just how quickly 2 hours flies past.
- Have a timer and give yourself 3–4 minutes per question. You’ll need a minute to think and review your answer afterwards.
- Don’t overthink the question, and make sure you answer every part. Answer the theory and then if they ask about your own experience, make sure you include it.
- Practice and get used to typing for 2 hours.
- Practice typing out short, sharp answers to questions. They’re looking for concise rather than wordy answers. Less is more.