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Two Feet In: Becoming a Certified Scrum Product Owner

Certified Scrum Product Owner

If I were to ask you what that ONE thing is that you’ve been wanting to do professionally, what would it be? While COVID-19 has thrust us into uncertain times, the one thing I do know is that it’s a great excuse for a lot of things—but also a great excuse for jumping right in and doing something that you maybe didn’t have the room for before. Whatever that thing is, block the time on your calendar and then, whether it’s clearing out that old filing cabinet or finally making those calls to your colleagues to tell them how much you appreciate them, just do it!

For me, that ONE thing that I’d been wanting to do but couldn’t quite justify for the last THREE YEARS was getting my certification as a Scrum Product Owner.

In keeping with Far Reach Core Value #6, Learn & Grow, one of the Far Reach partners shared an opportunity for some Scrum certification classes and sent it to a couple of us on the team. After assessing the classes, I saw one was being offered virtually in less than a week and the others were months out (and potentially in-person). Excuses started churning in my head: What if I miss too much being out for two days? Can I justify the expense? Next week is way too soon, but the others are far out and I’m not ready to go in person (Thanks, COVID!). I was FULL of them!

Then I realized I’ve been wanting this for years, so I told myself to go in with both feet, make the jump, and ask if the company would support me.

Sure enough, all of the partners responded with a big YES to the request, so another Product Owner and I took advantage of the opportunity to attend the training and get our certifications.

The moral of the story is not “congrats!” It’s to hopefully inspire you to check that ONE thing off your list. Just one thing, start there. COVID-19 can be an uncertain time or it can be the right time to make something good happen.

I’d love to hear about what your one thing is. Reach out and let me know how much better you feel after jumping in with two feet!

About the Scrum Product Owner Certification

The product owner role is an important part of scrum. As the name suggests, this person has ownership over the product by helping set priorities, communicating product vision to the team, getting buy-in from stakeholders, and so much more.

But there’s no major in college, no degree for becoming a product owner. Many of us grew into the product owner role with prior business, project management, or other experience, but no direct experience as a PO.

The Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) training and designation helps those of us in a product owner role make sure we understand our ownership responsibilities, know the scrum methodology and its many benefits, and connect with others in our same role.

The CSPO Training: A Case Study in Facilitation

Have you ever been on a Zoom or WebEx call and it was just bad…very, very bad?

Well—let’s not be that facilitator! The certified scrum product owner training was completely online—all day for two days straight. A coworker (who also attended) and I felt that one of the main reasons that the training went so well was because of the facilitation. In an effort to share lessons learned, we wanted to present some ideas to consider or at least some thoughts on what made the training so smooth.

Before the training session started, the facilitator shared the Zoom link and course materials (PowerPoint) a couple days in advance via email so everyone had plenty of time to print it if they desired.

While we’ve all had bad Zoom calls, whether it was technical errors or human errors, oddly enough, the first good thought that came to mind was that the facilitator “acted human.” He didn’t come into the call acting like some fancy, certified scrum trainer, dressed to the nines and strict to the script. He let his personality show, made some jokes here and there, and when he broke the script or said something in error, he’d recover and move on. It didn’t make him any less of an expert—if anything, it made us feel more open to conversation and asking questions.

As he was starting the class, he was up-front in letting us know about a couple of things—which we really liked knowing in advance. Maybe it’s the planner in us, but it was just nice to know expectations.

  1. He told us that we would get a break every hour and let the group come to consensus of how long of a lunch break to take (1 hour or less).
  2. Every hour break he used a timer and set that timer right in front of the video camera so we could see how much time we had left. He set it for 7-8 minutes each break. While it seems counterintuitive to break so often, it actually helped engagement and focus.
  3. He told us it was okay to move around, get up, and change positions
  4. It was expected for video cameras to be ON for the full session, in order to receive course credit. Once in a while, if someone came back from break or a camera randomly went off, he would politely ask after a few minutes if that individual was still there—hinting to please turn the camera back on.

After we got through expectations and setup, the facilitator got everyone engaged and talking right away. He showed a Bingo type of board, with about nine different squares, and in each square were reasons for attending the PO training. He asked each of us to pick a square and as we all went around to introduce ourselves, explaining what reason/square we chose and why. He noted that by getting everyone to talk up front, it gives the feeling of “everyone now has permission to talk” and enhances engagement from the ice breaker. This worked great because there couldn’t have been more than 12-15 people in the class.

As we dug into the course training, it was a great mix of presented material formats: PowerPoint slides, quality videos, Trello, and Zoom breakout rooms. If you aren’t familiar with breakout rooms, the concept is that the larger group can be broken out into smaller groups to have side conversations, but within the same Zoom link. The facilitator set a breakout room timer so everyone in smaller groups got indicators and direction via Zoom of how to return back to the larger group. It was extremely handy and smooth. Additional benefits of the breakout rooms were that by getting people into smaller groups, it lightly forced engagement when given a task to work on together. And you slowly got to know individuals who were once strangers. This facilitator chose to mix up people within the smaller breakout groups, until we got to a larger project, then we kept the same groups for about the second half.

While we were in the larger group, participants sometimes spoke up and asked questions or we made use of the handy Zoom Chat feature. You can either send an individual a chat or to everyone. Sending a question via chat was great, while still on topic or let’s be real—before you forgot what you were going to ask, but not having to interrupt the speaker. The facilitator would either answer the questions during the session or type back during a break, but he never missed a response within the same hour.

Another beneficial “forced engagement” type activity was that as part of the larger group, when he wanted us to give feedback or share what breakout rooms determined, he would call on the first person, but thereafter that person had to call on the next person to speak, then that person picked the next person—until the very last person had their turn. I joke that my coworker cheated by writing down everyone and crossing off as we went, but I felt it kept me engaged because I had to remember who had spoken so I didn’t accidentally pick someone who already went!

The facilitator also took liberty to call on individuals during other scenarios to solicit feedback. We were all fair game and it was great.

Overall, we felt that the two days went super smoothly. We were so impressed that we could foresee hiring the trainer as a scrum consultant if the day ever called for it. Expertise definitely played a role, but the facilitation was equally important. I hope that you can take these ideas from what we observed and consider trying them if you get the opportunity. Shoot me an email if you have any other great facilitation ideas too. We love learning new tips for how to do it better ourselves!