Scrum Product Owners Live in An Agile World
Scrum is the most commonly used Agile framework for completing complex projects. Work evolves through fixed-length iterations between self-organizing, cross-functional teams. While Scrum was originally conceived for software development, it can be applied to almost any complex, large scale project.
Scrum development teams have three specific roles: the Product Owner, Scrum Master, and the Development Team, which usually consists of 5 to 7 members with different specialities. To help those looking for training and certification, two CSPO experts weighed in:
Mark Levison is a Certified Scrum Trainer and Agile Coach with Agile Pain Relief Consulting. Levison an Agile Editor at InfoQ, has written dozens of articles on Agile topics, publishes a blog, Notes from a Tool User, and writes frequently on the neuroscience of learning. “Scrum is a tool to help an organization build better products that are focused on their customers needs,” he says. “It does this by building a high performance team and giving that team a clear target.”
Faith Cooley is ITIL Certified, PMP, Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, a Certified Scrum Master, Certified Scrum Product Owner, Agile coach, and Kanban Sensei who works on start-to-finish management of multimillion-dollar projects, like her current assignment with Astro, a Malaysian direct broadcast satellite Pay TV service. She’s a Scrum evangelist who says, “The beauty of Scrum is that it allows for changing business priorities without thrashing your whole plan! It’s empowering to every team member—which is why I have found it to be more effective than other project management methodologies.”
They are both part of the growing global Scrum movement, exemplified by more than 1,000 books published on the topic. Scrum is used by Fortune 500 companies around the world, and is being applied to the broader world of work beyond software development to manufacturing, marketing, operations and education.
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The Genesis of Scrum and Certification Organizations
Scrum began with ‘The New New Product Development Game’ written by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka in 1986. The Harvard professors used the rugby analogy (scrum) to illustrate their ideas about how development teams can work as a unit to deliver business value. Software developers Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber took their inspiration from that paper, conceived Scrum software development in the early 1990s, presented it in 1995 at the Oopsla conference in Austin, Texas and then published the paper “SCRUM Development Process.”
In 2002, Ken Schwaber founded the Scrum Alliance with Mike Cohn and Esther Derby, and then created the Certified Scrum Master program and its derivatives. In 2006, Jeff Sutherland formed Scrum Inc., while continuing to offer and teach the Certified Scrum courses. Schwaber left the Scrum Alliance in 2009 and founded Scrum.org.
Certification affiliated with founders Schwaber and Sutherland carry the most weight with employers—something to consider when you’re looking at potential organizations for your training.
Why You Need Scrum Product Owner Certification and Who Needs It
Learning about Scrum and gaining certification is important because the method has seen an application in every major vertical industry. Scrum is transforming product development work, but it’s also used for graphic design, supply chain management—even wedding planning. Levison noted that certification is great, but, “What matters is being exposed to the range of tools a good Product Owner needs to be effective. A CSPO course is a way of getting practice with a large variety of tools and then having a badge to show that.” Levison offers a reading list for Product Owners so they can better understand the tools.
You could read books and ‘learn on the job.’ However, the transition to Scrum requires a specific mindset and enculturation throughout the organization, and acquiring that mindset is one of the most valuable aspects of training. It can mean the difference between a team that makes the most of Scrum and one that’s just going through the motions. To keep the methodology thriving, practitioners need to be informed by interaction with peers and understand the most up to date, best practices based on successful implementations on actual projects.
Who should consider training and certification? Product Owners represent the voice of the customer in product and project development, so if your job requires you to feed client needs to the development team, certification may be right for you. Since company adoption is so important, many successful Agile adoptions have included Scrum training for everyone, from the CEO to the Sales staff. Scrum Product Owner training is especially appropriate for anyone in the corporate structure dealing with rapidly changing demands and decision-making responsibilities.
Cooley agrees. “Enculturation and engagement throughout the organization is important for Scrum to be successful,” she says. “It can be used across industries on large and small scale projects, but everyone needs to be on board, so it matters that management is knowledgeable and in tune. Because quite honestly if management doesn’t buy in, it can be challenging.” Since CSPOs are involved with company stakeholders, they can help bring Scrum collaborative culture into other areas of the organization. “The Product Owner is the interface to the business, with a big picture view and knowledge about making choices that will positively impact the business, so they can help coach and spread the word.”
Certified Scrum Product Owners Learning Objectives
There are many facets to becoming an effective Scrum Product Owner, like understanding the Scrum Framework, responsibilities, and how team members work together. “The key is that the Product Owner needs to be able to write the stories (requirements) and work with the Scrum Master and break down the project into workable pieces,” said Cooley. “For me, that’s what is at the center of the role.”
Understanding the Scrum Framework
CSPOs first task is to understand the Scrum framework. It looks simple, and can be applied to the most complex types of projects, but implementation can be challenging—another reason to gain certification.
Levison said, “The Scrum Master’s role is to help coach/build the high performance team. The Product Owner has the focus of building the right product. The Product Owner does this using a variety of tools from Story Mapping, Prioritization, Lean Startup, Lean UX, Personas, and more.”
While there are many tools, the process can be broken down into six steps:
- The Scrum Product Owner creates a prioritized project list called a product backlog.
- During Sprint planning, the team pulls a small chunk from the top of the product backlog and decides how to implement those pieces.
- The Scrum Development Team is allotted a specific timeframe called a Sprint (between two and four weeks) to complete the assigned work, and meets daily to assess progress (daily Scrum). The stories are prioritized by the Product Owner.
- Along the way, the Scrum Master keeps the team focused on its goal.
- At the end of the Sprint, the work should be potentially shippable: ready to hand to a customer, put on a store shelf, or demo for a stakeholder.
- The Sprint ends with a sprint review and retrospective, an aspect of continuous improvement that is fundamental to the process.
To begin the next Sprint, the team chooses the next highest priority from the product backlog and starts another Sprint cycle. Again, the Scrum Product Owner takes the lead. Scrum ensures that the most valuable tasks have been accomplished.
Understanding Scrum Team Responsibilities
As you can see from the framework, projects begin with the Scrum Product Owner, and it’s the Product Owner who’s responsible for the ROI of the team’s efforts. Successful Product Owners have a deep customer service mentality that helps the development team deliver value. The individual needs to know project expectations and why those elements are important to stakeholders, and then represent those interests to the Scrum team.
Being a Scrum Product Owner is an Agile balancing act. “An excellent Product Owner (PO) is someone who is open minded and always looking for new ideas to improve their client relationships. At the same time, a great PO remains focused on the vision and the goal while bridging the communication gap between the development team and the customer,” said Levison.
The Product Owner is also focused on what to build, while the Scrum Master helps the team work together to meet delivery. The Product Owner has a long list of management duties: product discovery, identifying and listing requirements, and getting the product backlog cued up. The Project Owner decides on content release and planning, reviews work, and provides feedback to the team, and releases content, all while managing a large number of stakeholders - the many diverse responsibilities make this a challenging role. What’s more, Product Owners take on some of the duties usually identified with product marketer, product manager, and project manager roles. The complexity of the job is one of the reasons certification can be so valuable. Learn more about Scrum teams and efficient project management.
The Benefits of Training to Become a Certified Scrum Product Owner
The Scrum Alliance's 2015 State of Scrum Report found that certification is extremely beneficial to 81 percent of the 4,452 respondents who said that certifications helped improve their Scrum practice. “To maintain all my certifications and simply keep up with what I need to know, I need to continue training hours. I always go into the classroom,” said Cooley. “Anyone can read a book, but I find that it’s very important to have the interaction and someone to answer my questions.” Levison agreed. “Given the interactive nature of both the Product Owner and Scrum Master roles I think trainings will need to be in person for the foreseeable future,” he said.
In addition to improving the role as a Product Owner and increasing ROI, management efficiency, team communication, and satisfy stakeholders, certification does help broaden career opportunities. With Agile and Scrum in high demand, Agile adoption is forcing businesses to compete for talent: in the VersionOne State of Agile Survey, 94 percent of respondents who are looking for the greater ROI and efficiency it promises were using some form of Agile. That’s why certification is important, particularly for younger workers: hiring managers are evaluating candidates not only on their experience and expertise, but also based on their potential as skilled Agile practitioners.
“I hire Scrum Masters and Product Owners and I do look for certification,” noted Cooley. “While it isn’t a substitute for experience, it does show commitment to the practice and professional improvement.”
4 Things To Look for In a Scrum Product Owner Certification Program
Whether you’re looking to improve your skills, or your company is prompting you to certify, there are many certifying organizations available. Here are some considerations as you begin your search:
- Options. Scrum is an ongoing endeavor. Make sure the organization you choose offers a progressive path of education across certifications, teaching, coaching, and other Scrum-related topics. Levison added, “Choose a trainer whose training style matches your own. For instance, my courses have few (or no) slides, a thick workbook for reference, and lots of exercises. If you’re looking for slides, my course will not be for you.”
- Longevity. Do some research. Verify that the organization is recognized in the industry as a reputable and long-standing organization.
- Quality. Engagement and exemplifying the Scrum way are important in the way classes are provided. “Training should be attendee and exercise driven,” said Levison. Standard learning objectives and high accreditation of trainers are two ways a certifying organization can deliver the consistent quality students expect. Don’t forget to look at the resources provided beyond certification - an organization that values continuous improvement for themselves is walking the walk.
- Community. An active and engaged community of peers can help you take the next step, and the next, and the next. Local, regional, and global Scrum user groups and events provide the chance to learn, teach, and share along your entire Scrum journey.
One of the best ways to find the right place for your certification is to see what Product Owners and ‘scrummers’ are saying on LinkedIn and other social networks.
Comparing Scrum Product Owner Certifications from Various Organizations
If you’re at the beginning of your Scrum Product Owner journey, a CSPO certification from Scrum Alliance or the Professional Scrum Master I (PSM I) from Scrum.org make sense because they are respected by human resource representatives and hiring managers. Here’s a look at course length, price, and renewal from the top 3 providers.
The original Scrum-focused non-profit group is popular: As of December 31, 2015, they have trained 88,899 CSPO students. The Scrum Alliance offers a wide variety of certifications and the opportunity to continue your education. Joining Scrum Alliance also offers a job board to members.
- Course length. A CSPO certification from Scrum Alliance requires attendance at a two-day, 16-hour training course. Certification testing is required within 90 days.
- Price. Depending on the trainer, CSPO courses are priced between $1,000 and $2,000. Courses for other Scrum Alliance certifications are also available at an additional cost.
- Renewal. CSPO certifications must be renewed every two years for a fee of $100, but there is no continuing education requirement. If you have more than one certification, they can be renewed in tandem with the “Combined Certified Scrum Master and Certified Scrum Product Owner and/or Certified Scrum Developer” option.
- Available certifications: Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM) Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO) Certified Scrum Developer® (CSD) Certified Scrum Professional® (CSP) Certified Team Coach (CTC), Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC, and Certified Scrum Trainer® (CST) Certified Agile Leadership (CAL).
- Pros and Cons. Scrum Alliance certifications are widely recognized—a great confidence and career builder. In addition, Scrum Alliance courses are taught worldwide, and have a long list of instructors.
Although non-profit Scrum.org was founded eight years after Scrum Alliance and has issued thousands fewer certifications in comparison, Scrum.org is highly respected among industry professionals and in some ways demonstrates more rigor than the Scrum Alliance.
- Course length. The Professional Scrum Product Owner (PSPO) is a two-day course.
- Price. The cost of the course is between $1,200 and $1,500
- Renewal. Certification renewals are free.
- Available certifications. Professional Scrum Master I(PSM I), Professional Scrum Master II (PSM II), Professional Scrum Product Owner (PSPO), Professional Scrum Foundations (PSF), and Scaled Professional Scrum (SPS).
- Pros and Cons. A major pro is that courses are standardized, so there is consistency no matter who is teaching. Programs are also designed to advance students from novice to expert through the curriculum - meaning that all attendees acquire identical core content. Another benefit of Scrum.org certifications is that Microsoft uses the PSM I assessment to validate knowledge as part of its Silver and Gold Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) competencies.
Jeff Sutherland, one of the originators of Scrum, formed this organization in 2006. He teaches many of the CSPO courses himself. Scrum Inc. provides training, consulting, and online educational content.
- Course length. The Certified Scrum Master Course is a two-day workshop.
- Price. The cost of the course is $2,000 when taught by Jeff Sutherland; other instructors command a $1,900 fee.
- Renewal. The certification is valid for two years.
- Available certifications. Certified Scrum Master (CSM) - Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO).
- Pros and Cons. Many of the in-person classes are conducted by Jeff Sutherland. Low priced plans are provided through online/on-demand courses. There are fewer courses and certifications available through Scrum Inc. than Scrum Alliance and Scrum.org, although Scrum Inc. provides additional courses such as Scrum at Scale.
Project Management Institute
Although PMI doesn't offer specific Scrum certifications, its PMI-ACP certification is popular among Scrum practitioners and employers because it covers several Scrum practices, as well as other Agile approaches.
- Course length. There are no Scrum courses available, but PMI offers its own Agile-related courses to gain PMI-ACP Certification and professional development units for certification renewal.
- Price. Exam prices are $435 for PMI members and $495 for non-members. “Regardless of your experience and education, you should still prepare vigorously for the exam,” PMI advises. “Successful candidates will typically use multiple study aids including courses, self-study and study groups.”
- Renewal. PMI-ACP certification holders must earn 30 professional development units (PDUs) involving Agile topics every three years to renew the certification.
- Pros & Cons. PMI-ACP certification acknowledges the real-world experience of certificate seekers, which can be a plus for many Scrum candidates. However, the prerequisites for the PMI-ACP certification exam exceed those of entry-level Scrum Master certification tests and requires many hours of coursework and project experience. To take the exam, you must have 21 contact hours of training in Agile practices, as well as 2,000 hours of general project experience. A Project Management Professional or Program Management Professional certification will satisfy this requirement, but is not required to apply for the PMI-ACP. In addition to the 2,000 hours requirement, you must have 1,500 hours of experience working on Agile project teams or with Agile methodologies.
Additional Organizations and Certified Scrum Product Owner Training Options
Based on sheer demand, there are many organizations that offer CSPO certifications. For example, Scrum Alliance founder Mike Cohn owns Mountain Goat Software, which provides certification, and many other for-profits have Alliance-certified trainers offering certification that is recognized by the Alliance or PMI.
“As an independent, I pay for my own training, and I want real value and great trainers because my clients expect it,” said Cooley. “I go to SolutionsIQ because my clients respect their expertise and ‘name recognition.’ I like them because the trainers and consultants also work with clients, they have a real sense of what works and pass it along to me.”
Exploring options through your peer networks is a good way to begin your search for an organization and trainers that fit your needs, those of your employer, and your learning style.
Next Steps After Scrum Product Owner Certification
You’ve completed your training and are certified as a CSPO. What’s next? Becoming Agile is a commitment by Scrum Product Owners to continuous improvement, so the Scrum Alliance suggests:
- Join a user group
- Spread your knowledge by writing an article
- Attend meetings
- Join a CSPO LinkedIn Group
- Earn Additional Qualifications
- Become a Certified Scrum Professional
“I have Product Owner and Scrum Master certification, plus quite a few more, because coaching is extremely important,” Cooley continued, “Let me give you an example: when I converted from Waterfall to Agile, I was so uncomfortable. ‘Stories’ were ‘requirements.’ I just didn’t get it. Agile coaching helped get me to understand the dexterity I needed.”
Scrum and CSPO Resources
There are thousands of books, hundreds of articles, and meetings near you and across the globe to gather Scrum and CSPO insights and experiences. Here is a sampling:
- “Agile Product Management with Scrum: Creating Products that Customers Love” by Roman Pichler
- “Do Better Scrum” by Peter Hundermark
- “The Elements of Scrum” by Chris Sims and Hillary Louise Johnson
- “Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time” by Jeff Sutherland and J.J. Sutherland
- “The Scrum Field: Agile Advice for Your First Year and Beyond” by Mitch Lacey
- “Scrum Product Ownership Balancing Value from the Inside Out” by Robert Galen
- “Scrum Guide” Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland
- “The Scrum Papers” by Jeff Sutherland
- “Succeeding with Agile: Software Development Using Scrum” by Mike Cohn
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