A Scrum Certification: Is It a Sound Investment for Your Career?
TL; DR: Is a Scrum Certification a Sound Investment Advice?
Do you need a Scrum certification to become good at what you do? Not really. It took me nine years after I started working in this industry to get my first certificate.
What are the benefits then of having a Scrum certification? Well, becoming certified by a recognized Scrum certification organization such as Scrum.org is sound investment advice, as documented by the Scrum Master Salary Report 2022: There is a statistical correlation between your remuneration and the certificates you hold.
Also, prospective clients and employers use, for example, PSM and CSM as search terms on LinkedIn. Scrum certificates are hence an affordable way of signaling competence and dedication. However, be smart about where to become certified and avoid investing in Scrum certificates that have no brand recognition.
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🇩🇪 Zur deutschsprachigen Version: Scrum Master Gehalt 2022 — die Umfrageergebnisse.
Why Consider Investing in a Scrum Certification in the First Place?
Besides truisms like ‘Invest in yourself. It pays the best interest’; there is data available: The Scrum Master Salary Report 2022 shows that certifications and your level of experience significantly impact the remuneration. From the report:
Your salary increases with the number and sophistication of the certificates you obtain. The median difference between having no certification and having at least an entry-level certification, for example, the PSM I, is as much as $15,000 annually. Advanced certificates, for example, the PSM II, and additional qualifications such as SCM, ICP-ACC, PMI-ACP add up to another $19,000 annually to your paycheck.
Unsurprisingly, the salary also increases as Scrum Masters and agile coaches gain experience and reach intermediate and senior levels. From our point of view, what is surprising is the median difference between junior-level income and senior-level income. A difference of roughly $40,000 is a valid argument to cope with the troubles that may stress you in your day-to-day business. We also want to highlight that the more senior you become, the higher the salary distribution spreads.
Now that we have established a baseline that a Scrum certification is a valuable investment, let’s look at the organizations that provide proper Scrum certificates.
Scrum Certification Entities: Which One to Choose?
Regarding Scrum certificates, there are three serious certification bodies: Scrum.org, Scrum Alliance, and Scrum, Inc. While the latter was founded by Jeff Sutherland, one of the two co-creators of Scrum, both Scrum.org and Scrum Alliance were founded by Ken Schwaber, Jeff Sutherland’s partner in creating Scrum.
If you are considering a Scrum certification to further your career, look no further than those three. Of those three, Scrum.org and Scrum Alliance alone have a majority share of this industry-acknowledged Scrum certificate market. In fact, we are talking about a Scrum certification duopoly. (Practically, except for Scrum. Inc., a well-positioned challenger of the current duopoly, this means ignoring all the other competing “certification entities.”)
So if prospective customers, employers, and headhunters search LinkedIn for credentials like the PSM, CSM, or RSM, you don’t want to invest in something else.
What Is the Difference Between Scrum.org and Scrum Alliance?
My Experience with Scrum Alliance
While I started working with Scrum and XP back in 2006, I considered a Scrum certification for the first time only in 2015. At the time, I became a member of Scrum Alliance by attending both the Scrum Master and a Product Owner class which was—and still is—the only way to acquire a Scrum certification from Scrum Alliance. Thus, I became CSM, CSPO, and CSP in the following years. While I took a simple online test for the CSM—it took less than 20 minutes to pass with a 70-plus percent result—I received my CSPO for attending a class. Moreover, becoming a CSP required little more than curating a long list of accomplishments, from attending conferences to writing blog posts to reading books.
All in all, my certification path with Scrum Alliance represented rather my ability to pay for attending classes or conferences than professional accomplishment. Scrum Alliance’s focus on driving its economic model also expresses itself in the renewal fees you have to pay every two years as a member; see my meanwhile abandoned Scrum Alliance profile.
I reached the tipping point regarding my membership when considering becoming a Scrum trainer. I researched the Byzantine process that the Scrum Alliance trainer community designed to identify trainers candidates and decided it was time to move on and join Scrum.org instead.
My Personal Take on Why Scrum.org Is Superior to Signal Scrum Knowledge and Experience as Scrum Master, Product Owner, or Developer
The reason why I consider Scrum.org superior to Scrum Alliance if you want to professionally signal your Scrum knowledge and experience as Scrum Master, Product Owner, Developer, or agile leader is simple. Scrum.org’s mission is to support the agile community to solve complex adaptive problems without putting the business model first:
This different approach by Ken Schwaber has profound consequences on how the Scrum certification program is designed:
- First of all, there is no need to attend a class to prove your Scrum knowledge to the world; you can do so by individually taking the exams at a fraction of the cost.
- Consequently, decoupling the Scrum certification from class attendance frees Professional Scrum trainers like me from the necessity to focus any class on getting students through the respective certification. Instead, PSTs can fully concentrate on supporting students in accomplishing the move to the next professional level. (Typically, understanding Scrum’s first principles to successfully apply Scrum is at the same time also massively beneficial regarding passing the corresponding Scrum certification exams.)
- Decoupling also means that the level of Scrum.org’s Scrum certificates and exams is significantly higher by comparison to their counterparts I passed myself. All Scrum.org exams require you to pass 85 % of available points, proving a substantial threshold you cannot overcome by chance. Scrum.org certificates prove that a practitioner has deep knowledge and experience applying Scrum professionally.
- Lastly, there are no more renewal fees for Scrum.org certification holders. Instead, as a practitioner, you are encouraged to invest in yourself; for example, by considering the suggestions from ‘learning paths.’
How to Pass Scrum.org Professional Scrum Certifications?
The purpose of this article is to establish the general notion that a Scrum certification is a worthwhile investment for a Scrum practitioner. I will delve into the best ways of preparing yourself for passing Scrum.org’s most popular Scrum certificates—such as the PSM I to III or the PSPO I to III—in other blog posts. You will learn what to read, where to take mock exams, and when you know that you are ready to take the beforementioned Scrum exams. So, stay tuned!
The Conclusion: Scrum Certification
If you consider a career as a Scrum practitioner, becoming certified by a recognized Scrum certification organization such as Scrum.org is sound investment advice. The Scrum Master Salary Report 2022 documented the correlation between experience and certification levels on the one side and your remuneration as a Scrum Master or agile coach on the other side.
Given that prospective customers, employers, and headhunters search Linkedin for credentials like the PSM or PSPO, avoid investing in Scrum certificates that have no brand recognition. (See also a recent LinkedIn poll on the usefulness of certifications.)
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