How to prepare for the Professional Kanban I exam
Recently me and a dozen of colleagues had the privilege to be part of the first german speaking training course for the ProKanban Professional Kanban I (PKI) certification. In this course we learned a lot about Kanban Systems, metrics, pull based flows, limiting work in progress and much more. Here I want to share my most helpful insights about Kanban and my preparation for the PKI assessment.
Step One: Read the Kanban Guide (carefully)
Since this course is based on a written guide, much like Scrum is built upon the Scrum Guide, it is absolutely recommended that you read the Kanban Guide. You don’t need to learn it by heart but read it carefully. It is important to understand which term is considered to be a forecast, what is a measurement and so on.
Clarify the definition of Kanban, the minimal components of the Definition of Workflow, how to actively manage your work items and of course what your minimal Kanban Measures should be. Pay attention to the minimal definitions characteristics: Teams are able to build a lot more upon these. On the other side notice that most of them are really vague in terms of there are usually no specific numbers and limits set. In Kanban you have to define those values yourself and as fast as possible. Usually the Kanban Guide tries to be minimally prescriptive.
What stuck with me while reading the Kanban Guide is that Kanban is way less about people, team structure or even roles than Scrum. Keep that in mind for the test and for your experience in real life Kanban systems: Even though Kanban says nothing about how to handle or organise people, they cannot be treated as resources the same way you would treat machines in the assembly line. Never try maximising resource utilisation especially when talking about people.
Step Two: Take the two days course
Since there is a course to cover the contents of the Professional Kanban I assessment, it makes perfect sense to take it! I wouldn’t say that it is 100% necessary for passing the test, but there are a lot of hints and tips not only for getting a passing score, but also to really learn important aspects for working with Kanban. Like in most trainings, you will probably learn not only from your trainer but also from other participants, since they are as interested in the topic as you and might have a variety of experiences. In my case all of my colleagues were a blessing and one of them was even considered an expert in metrics.
The course will provide you with additional input and probably even more study material to dive into, opportunities to raise questions and to try out some WiP Limits yourself. Combining theory with practice is what makes learning efficient. And fun.
Step Three: Try it yourself!
Now that you have learned a lot about Kanban, why not start using Kanban practices and metrics in your own work? It does not matter if you are already using agile approaches for software development or just working in your local city hall office: You can define a workflow and start building your Kanban system! Gain experience and insights!
In my case I prepared some flow metrics for my Scrum Teams retrospective to inspect and adapt with my team. It was great to see the graphs changing over time and to gain a deeper understanding of our work in our (self defined) system.
But be careful: Kanban is more than just a to-do list in table form or fancy charts and plots! Dive a bit deeper in how to control your flow.
Step Four: Read more
It is always a good idea to get a wider range of input about a topic and fortunately there is a ton of free information about Kanban widely available. So you might read the Kanban Pocket Guide although it has a massive 100+ pages. I didn’t had a closer look into it myself prior to doing the assessment. But looking at the table of contents some chapters are worth it. I recommend reading “The Most Important Part of Kanban: Work Item Age” and “Breaking Down Work Items”, since those aspects come a bit short in the Kanban Guide but are not unimportant for correct application of Kanban. Besides that, ProKanban offers a collection of links in its Learning Resources. My personal tip is to get comfortable with Little’s Law and workflow visualisation. You should be able to work with data and the common graphical representation of metrics as well.
Be careful with some resources: There are several opinions or approaches out there that are not 100% conform with the PKI exam. E.g. The Official Guide to The Kanban Method by Kanban University might seem similar at first glance, but it has some major differences to the Kanban Guide since it adds a lot more to it. I’m not saying that the Kanban Method is wrong or bad – but it is not part of the PKI curriculum and might confuse you when preparing for the test. Go read it afterwards!
Personally, I was glad that I was familiar enough with Scrum to be able to understand the implementation of Kanban together with Scrum. Since Kanban has no direct specifications for the implementation of the strategy, I had enough imaginative power to combine it with the somewhat more clearly described procedure in Scrum. What would you discuss in a daily stand up meeting through the eyes of a kanban expert? I recommend reading the Scrum Guide or asking your local agile community about their ideas.
Step Five: Practice with the Open Assessment
So, now you are well read and informed about Kanban. Thankfully you don’t have to jump into the cold water of the exam itself, but you have the opportunity to learn how to swim with the open assessment! There are 30 questions in 20 minutes that you can go through several times before doing the actual exam. You’ll get to know the tricks and quirks about the kanban logic and also the quiz system used. For example, there is a function to bookmark questions. After going through all the questions once, you can quickly jump back to the more problematic or tricky ones.
After finishing the open assessment, take some more time for the evaluation! Go through your wrongly answered questions in detail, reread questions, their answer options and have a closer look at the explanations. You could also invest time to read the explanations of the correctly answered questions. This is again an opportunity to learn!
Since english is not my native language I stumbled about some vocabulary I was not familiar with. But it is important to understand every single word, because they can provide meaning nuances to questions and answers. So I advise you to use a translation tool where it is useful. But I would not recommend translating whole questions.
I felt comfortable after succeeding several open assessments with a score of 100%. Don’t worry too much about the first runs – I made a lot of mistakes myself. Sometimes because I didn’t read carefully enough. Take your time.
Step Six: Take the Assessment!
At some point you have to take the assessment. Don’t postpone it longer than needed! In Kanban we want to prevent unnecessarily aged work, and taking the test is work rewarded with value – a certificate!
There is no such thing as one hundred percent certainty to pass the exam since we can only look at our past performances (e.g. the open assessment), but regarding our experiences you should be good to go eventually.
The exam has 80 questions in a 60 minute time limit. That is not a lot of time. You have to be quick at the easy questions so that you can invest more time into the harder ones. Don’t forget to use the bookmark function to revisit challenging questions before ending your exam. At my take I bookmarked 16 out of the 80 questions in the first run! Luckily I had roughly enough time to rethink my answers. You need a score of 85% or more to pass. So while some mistakes are allowed, the margin for error is not very large. Best is to avoid slip of the pen and use the buffer for the hard questions.
After one hour: You’re done! And you get instant feedback about how good you have mastered the exam and – depending on your score – get a certificate!
I feel quite comfortable with Kanban and wanted to share my experience about the course and the assessment with you. That does not mean that I’m already a Kanban guru! I continue to identify myself more strongly with Scrum, but Kanban offers another perspective, a couple of very useful tools and approaches that I want to apply in my daily work. Thus I want to encourage my colleagues to do the same.
Coming back to you: I hope this article was helpful or enjoyable for you and you feel empowered or motivated to work with Kanban and the PKI assessment! Good luck!
Further note: Before publishing this article, I have obtained permission from ProKanban.