Passing the Product Owner (PSPO/CSPO) certification

How to prepare for the Product Owner certification so you succeed on the first try.

I obtained my Product Owner certification in 2015 and would like to share my strategy for passing the exam. I hope it will help others to smoothly sail through it as well. The strategy can equally well be applied for the Scrum Master and Scrum Developer certifications.

Which certification to go for?

There are two certifications that matter when starting out as Product Owner: Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) by Scrum Alliance and Professional Scrum Product Owner I (PSPO I) by Scrum.org. I decided to go for the PSPO I for a couple of reasons:

  • CSPO forces you to follow a two-day training. Once you pass the training, the certification is only valid for two years. It is a great cash cow for Scrum Alliance. I do not want to be a part of this, as I do not believe it adds enough value. PSPO I can be studied at your own leisure and you need to pass an online questionnaire. It is valid indefinitely.
  • CSPO is not held in higher esteem than PSPO I. PSPO I is actually more difficult than CSPO. Vacancies do not make a distinction between the two. Why spend more money if it does not offer tangible value in the job market?
  • Regardless which one of the two I would take, I would study the same guide. The goal should be the gained knowledge and not the stamp of approval.

Companies do care about the stamp of approval. Especially when you want to start as a Product Owner without prior experience like I did. I simply care about knowledge I am able to apply.

Strategy for passing the PSPO I certification

I used the following strategy for getting the certification:

  1. Book the exam ahead in time. This means your study time is time-boxed and you have a deadline to work towards. One month should be more than enough. It helps to stay focused and do the work.
  2. Read the official Scrum Guide. Read it again. Keep on reading till you get bored. It is only ~ 20 pages!
  3. Make a Mind Map. Formalise what you have read in a mental model. This will aid remembering and reinforce learning.
  4. Do all the open assessments available on Scrum.org for each role: Development Team, Scrum Master and Product Owner. Keep doing this until you consistently score 100 procent. If you fail a question, read the relevant parts in the Scrum guide. Doing all available open assessments helps to understand where each role starts and ends.
  5. The devil is in the details. Make sure you are able to answer the following questions by heart:
  • When does a sprint start? When does it finish?
  • When is it okay to cancel a sprint?
  • What are all Scrum Events and which artefacts do they produce?
  • What are the minimum and maximum time-boxes for each Scrum Event? If applicable, what do the time-boxes depend on?
  • Who needs to be present at each Scrum event and who does not?
  • What are the responsibilities for each role?
  • What is the minimum and maximum number of members for the Development Team?
  • What factors should be taken into consideration when deciding on the length of a sprint?
  • What is the difference between the Scrum Team and the Development Team?
  • What is the goal of each Scrum event? How does this fit with the empirical process model of Scrum?
  • Who is allowed to add items to the backlog and make adjustments to them?
  • How should the backlog be prioritised?
  • Who is responsible for estimating the backlog?

6. Read articles on the Product Owner role. There are more than enough on Medium. This helps understanding different perspectives and getting more in depth about what the role really entails. You will also be able to spot the mistakes people make in their articles. Scrum is easy to learn, but hard to master.

Doing the PSPO I certification

The certification takes 60 minutes and consists of 80 questions. You will not have a lot of time to think things through. Be prepared for this so you do not feel pressured. I would categorise the exam as easy in terms of difficulty. If you followed all the steps above you should not worry. A lot of the questions you will immediately know the answer to without really having to think a lot. Some of the questions will be a bit tougher and just take the time to think them through. You can always mark the difficult questions and revisit them later.

Please let me know if this article helped you to pass your exam!