Studying for an exam involves work that you wouldn’t normally choose to do, but recently I have found that there can be significant benefits to breaking out from your normal patterns and exposing yourself to new material.
I’m currently working towards my Scrum.org Professional Scrum Trainer certification and part of the process involves achieving 95% in the Professional Scrum Master (PSM) II exam. To do this I have carefully re-read the Scrum Guide and other recommended texts – I’ve also attended an excellent PSM course with Don McGreal, and analysed case studies from the PSM course with my colleagues at Agility in Mind.
During my day job as a coach and trainer I draw upon my practical experience of delivering software to help people solve real business problems. My objective is to help the client deliver better products by incrementally implementing Scrum while keeping business outcomes at the fore. With one particular client the teams are finding that they need to finalise the code almost half way through the sprint in order for it to be built and tested in time. They are tempted to break out into development and testing sprints, staggered a week apart.
I have found that the process of studying for the PSM II exam has allowed me to re-establish the core principles and intent of the Scrum framework after many years of applying them in practice. In the case of this client, I have come to appreciate that Scrum is highlighting issues with the test policies and architecture. It is painful to create a releasable increment within the constraints of one sprint, but the organisation will achieve better long-term capabilities by addressing the root cause rather than modifying Scrum.
When I first started as a Scrum Master I often knew when a team was not working within the Scrum framework, but I couldn’t explain in business terms why they should. Having gained practical experience and then revisited the theory, I now understand that Scrum is a principle based approach which uses constraints to highlight sub-optimal systems and behaviours, allowing focus to be given to the areas with the greatest potential for improvement.
Finding a balance between practical experience and studying the theory helped me in this situation, and it doesn’t seems to be an isolated pattern. As a musician I learned common patterns such as scales and intervals while preparing for “grade” exams, which I put into practice by playing in orchestras. Achieving a good level of musicianship requires both elements: mastering the theory is useless without the intuition of listening and adapting to fellow musicians, but studying common patterns and theory enhances the interpretation of music in practical situations.
Why not take a moment to think about the balance between practice and theory in your personal development? What skills would you like improve and what practical experiences in your current role are allowing you to develop these skills? Finally, consider whether your objectives can be supported by undertaking some formal study or by working towards a recognised certification.