Scrum Master Certifications – Two Cents from an Agile Coach

“Which Scrum Master Certification should I get?” That was the question I got just a week ago. This lead to a good conversation with the person asking, and this blog post is based on our conversation and my answer. What do you think?

To answer “which should I get,” one might first ask “Is it worth getting a certification?” There are two ways I want to explore this topic. One facet is financial the other is more intrinsic. First, some companies require a certification before they consider a candidate for a position. This is a lazy way to screen candidates. It’s like requiring a 4-year college degree as a litmus test that prospective candidates must pass, even if the job doesn’t really need a four-year degree. Hopefully some day we will have more enlightened hiring practices. Until then, however, we’re stuck with the game. The other way to look at it is about how well going through the certification process can position you for the role. There can be a lot of indirect value in the learning that comes from preparing to take the exam.

Here is my perspective on the four certifying bodies we talked about: Scrum Alliance, Scrum.org, PMI, and ScrumStudy.com

Scrum Alliance

Scrum Alliance issues the Certified Scrum Master (CSM), Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO), and other “Certified Scrum *” certifications. To take these exams, you must to take a two-day class from a Certified Scrum Trainer (CSD), and then take the exam. The cost of one exam attempt is included in the cost of taking the training. Cost of training varies from one trainer to another. Certifications have to be renewed periodically. I think that cost might be about $100 every two years, or something in that neighborhood.

There is a vast difference in the quality of CSTs. Some have deep knowledge and communicate well, and others are more style than substance. When people ask me about CSTs, I always recommend spending the extra money and going to one of Mike Cohn’s training courses. He’s not the least expensive option out there, but his experience and ability to communicate is excellent.

From an employer perspective, I see CSM as the most asked-for certification when I see position descriptions for Scrum Masters or Scrum Coaches. So, from a “get a job” perspective, I’d put this one at the top of the list.

Scrum.org

Scrum.org was formed by a couple of the founders of Scrum. They offer “Professional Scrum….” Certificates. For example, Professional Scrum Master level 1, 2, and 3 are certifications that are offered. Unlike the Scrum Alliance certification, you can take the Scrum.org exams without taking a training class at all. There are study guides available on the Scrum.org web site. The PSM 1 certification exam cost is $500. There is no requirement to renew these certifications.

If you want to attend training in preparation for the exam, you can certainly do that. There are certified trainers that can deliver training from a standard set of materials made available by Scrum.org. Admittedly, I am conflicted about where you should get the training, since my employer, AgileThought, provides the training. However, at this time, AgileThought does not have a public training class offered. Should you have a group of folks in your company who would like to get trained, we can arrange to have a trainer come to your business.

PMI

The Project Management Institute (PMI) issues the PMI-ACP certification. This certification requires that you have a certain number of hours of agile project experience (2,000 hours of general project experience, an additional 1,500 hours on agile project teams), plus 21 hours of training in agile practices. The training that I provided at Zillion could be counted toward your 21 contact hours, although I didn’t look into exactly how to document those training hours. For non-PMI members, the cost is $495, so very comparable to the Scrum.org PSM 1 certification.

ScrumStudy.com

This is one of the lesser known options. Honestly, I know relatively little about it. Without having looked at the Scrum Body of Knowledge (SBOK), I’d think it might have good reference information in it. That said, since the scrum master-related certification from scrumstudy.com costs almost as much as the one from scrum.org or the PMI-ACP, I would be inclined toward either the scrum.org or PMI-ACP, since they are more recognized in the industry. It’s not to say that the education you will get from one or the other is better or worse, but if the goal is recognition in the industry, I would put the one from scrum study at the bottom of my list.

Summary

I feel like you could really start with any of these and do well. My opinion is that the Scrum.org test has the lower barrier to entry. By that, I mean you don’t have to document the thousands of hours required by PMI to take their exam. And, you don’t have to attend a two day class like you would for CSM. If I were pursuing a certification on my own, I think I would start with Scrum.org certification.

If the company I worked for were paying for the time and the exam, I would probably get a CSM from Scrum Alliance, and I would try to attend a class given by Mike Cohn. Of course, that is if all the costs of attendance and travel were covered by my company. I got my CSM from Mike Cohn several years ago, and really respect him as a trainer.

As for the PMI-ACP, I have heard that the preparation is valuable. I’m not sure what the market demand for that is, but I could see an organization that values PMP certification also being interested in PMI-ACP.

But…

The best “certification” I can think of is a personal reference from a trusted source. No piece of paper will replace this. As a person looking to step into that role, look to connect with others in the agile community. Seek out opportunities to build your experience base and allow others to see what you can do. Demonstrating competence of the material, as well as the ability to apply the knowledge in an engaging way, is much more valuable than a piece of paper that says you sat in class and/or passed a written test.

What are your thoughts? Comment on the post below….

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