What Scrum Master certification to choose?

MasterScrum

Some years ago I get interested in Agile software development and I have been using the Scrum product development framework in several projects, but eventually, I decided to formalize this knowledge starting with a Scrum Master certification. When I talked about this with some friends and acquaintances I was surprised when a lot of them started to ask me about it with many doubts and confusions.

To try to shed some light, I will get into a heated territory within the Scrum community, sharing my experience while I was trying to answer several of the first questions that come to mind when you’re interested in a Scrum certification. It should be noted that nobody is paying me for my opinion (I wish….).

Why get a Scrum Master certification?

I was a developer who finds himself involved with Agile and Scrum about 7 years ago (more by emergency than by good judgment) in order to finish projects near of collapse. Little by little and still with many setbacks but also proposing good practices to the management and in an active role, the teams which I was part of, successfully managed to get out of several quagmires, but the truth is that I never felt the need to obtain any formal validation for that knowledge. Eventually, fate, time and several fellow developers pushed me to take a more active role on the project management side, but I found that several clients and employers were asking me for certified Skills in Scrum and/or Project Management (foolish!).

Around 2013, while I was looking for a new job, I began to notice that more and more vacancies, for project managers and even developers, required Scrum knowledge. Considering that many times in the past managers, directors and even project managers asked me what was that Scrum thing, I noticed that things were changing in a remarkable way.

So, the message was clear. If I wanted to have a better chance finding interesting (and reasonably paid) jobs, I had to certify my knowledge. But that was the easy part; I spent a good amount of time researching what my options were. In the rest of this post, I condensed what I learned about Scrum certifications under the Scrum Master role.

Scrum Master Certifications

The first thing is to clarify that there are several organizations offering Scrum Master certifications, the best known are:

This post only addresses these three certifications, but there are others that probably you want to consider:

  • PMI_ACP. Project Management Institute Agile Certified Practitioner is offered by the Project Management Institute.
  • ICAgile Certifications. Certifications offered by the International Consortium for Agile.

*Please note that all figures presented are valid as of the date of publication of this entry and may change without prior notice.

Certified Scrum Master (CSM) from Scrum Alliance

SA_ButtonCSM

This is the most known and long-lived certification of all. The Scrum Alliance was founded by one of the two creators of Scrum, Ken Schwaber along with other heavyweights of Agile and Scrum world such as Esther Derby and Mike Cohn.

However, today there are some criticisms for this certification because although it is the most widely recognized certification, it’s open knowledge that all certifications issued before 2012 did not require any evaluation, being the only requirement to attend an official course of the Scrum Alliance. In response, the Scrum Alliance has changed the certification process to the following mandatory steps:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the basic concepts of Scrum.
  2. Attend the official CSM course.
  3. Obtain the certificate that verifies the completion of the CSM course and passes the CSM evaluation with a minimum score of 69% (still considered a low percentage by some practitioners).

The courses can only be taught by the Certified Scrum Trainers, but as the courses are not approved, it seems that the quality of each course depends on the skills, experience, and materials that each instructor can offer independently.

The course cost includes the evaluation, can change from region to region, but ranges are between $850 USD and $1,300 USD. To maintain valid CSM certification, it must be renewed every two years at a cost of $100 USD but the Scrum Alliance also introduced the Scrum Education Units, which can be used to renew its certifications. In the same vein, for those holding PMI certifications, these courses also provide PDUs.

Professional Scrum Master (PSM) from Scrum.org

The Scrum Alliance and Ken Schwaber had a separation in 2009 and this led to the latter founding of a new organization called Scrum.org, which offers courses and certifications for PSM among others. After the Scrum Alliance certification, this is the most widespread Scrum Master certification, gaining more and more recognition in the industry. Something different in Scrum.org is they don’t offer just a single certification, you can get three different levels of Scrum Master certification from them, this is the PSM I, PSM II and PSM III.

It’s important to mention that today a large part of the Scrum community address to these certifications as the most difficult to obtain, because PSM I, PSM II and PSM III require evaluations with minimum scores of 85% and since they include questions of high difficulty, being required to get the PSM I to be able to obtain the PSM II, and these two before being able to try the PSM III test. Several sources reported that there is a relatively high amount of people who, even with experience in Scrum or other certifications, fail these assessments.

In spite of how intimidating this may sound, an encouraging point is that none of these evaluations require the applicant to attend a course, so in theory, these certifications can be achieved with the appropriate time for study, revision and/or experience, in addition, these certifications do not need to be renewed.

The cost for the PSM I evaluation is $150 USD, for the PSM II it’s $250 USD and for the PSM III it’s $500 USD, with the right to one single attempt.

The optional Professional Scrum Master course offered by Scrum.org can only be taught by the Professional Scrum Trainers, who have approved materials. The costs of the courses seem to go between $1295 and $1995 USD.

As with the Scrum Alliance courses, PMI certification holders can obtain PDUs for the PSM courses.

Scrum Master Certified (SMC) from SCRUMstudy

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This is the most controversial certification of those mentioned in this post and within the Scrum community, So far I don’t know who is/are exactly the founders of this organization, but they have the credit of having created a free book in its digital version, called the SBOK Guide or Scrum Body of Knowledege whose main author is Tridibesh Satpathy. This organization offers SCM certification.

The SCM certification bases its assessment on the SBOK Guide, which has a process approach (similar to the PMI’s PMBOK), and another concepts called principles and aspects, that is, everything is in the context of the interpretation made by the authors about Scrum in the SBOK Guide, which has caused this organization to have serious differences with many practitioners and founders of Scrum who even took part in the creation of the Agile manifesto and therefore with a large part of the Scrum community; although on the other hand, it has achieved a certain amount of acceptance from the industry.

One point against this certification, which may be eventually important for some people, is that the most popular Scrum scaling frameworks such as SAFe, LeS or Nexus are based on the Scrum Guide and do not recognize SBOK, even SAFe ONLY recognizes as relevant certifications a those offered by the Scrum Alliance and Scrum.org. This may be important since being SAFe the most influential scaling framework so far, means that if you want to obtain a SAFe certification the certification of the SCRUMstudy will NOT be valid.

The minimum score in their respective evaluation to obtain this certification is of 95%, although in my research I have obtained testimonies and mixed comments on their difficulty, they do not have prerequisites although their SBOK must be strongly studied since apparently the exam attacks only the perspective of this guide.

The cost of the test is $450 USD with 3 attempts and requires 40 re-certification units every 3 years (these units are obtained by different activities).

According to my research, the SMC course content is approved and can only be provided by the SCRUMstudy Certified Trainers whose are based mostly on the SBOK guide, the costs are around $450 USD, but costs can change between regions and partners. The testimonials I got were quite mixed, I got good comments about the courses materials offered but one thing I was told several times is that when the trainers face questions and/or scenarios outside the context of the SBOK Guide, these instructors really struggle a lot to solve doubts from the “real world”. SCRUMstudy has several partners to offer their courses.

PDUs are also offered if you take the SMC course.

Resumen

  1. The Certified Scrum Master (CSM) certification is more widely known than the Professional Scrum Master (PSM) and the Scrum Master Certified (SMC).
  2. The training costs for PSM are (on average) higher than CSM and SMC training courses and are not available in all countries. The costs of CSM are usually higher than SMC.
  3. The costs of acquiring and maintaining CSM certification are higher than those for SMC and PSM, the latter being the cheapest since no payment is required to maintain the certification.
  4. The value of CSM certification is very questioned especially if it was issued before 2012 (it was granted without evaluation).
  5. The materials and the quality of the courses for CSM can vary greatly since they are not approved.
  6. The materials provided for PSM and SMC in their training are approved (and according to several testimonies are usually good).
  7. The SMC certification is based on the practices described in the SBOK and not necessarily as described in the Scrum Guide (text by the creators of Scrum).
  8. The value of the SMC certification is questioned by many important members and organizations in the Scrum community.
  9. The most important scaling framework at the moment (SAFe) only recognizes as relevant and valid certifications the Certified Scrum Master (CSM) and the Professional Scrum Master (PSM).

* Correct figures at the time of publication. They can change without notice.

Sorry about my English I’m not a natural speaker (don’t be grumpy, help me to improve 🙂 ).

Some book that can be interesting for you:

IT professional with several years of experience in management and systems development with different goals within public and private sectors.

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