The 5 Best Scrum Master Certifications of 2020

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Scrum in an increasingly popular project management framework that helps companies and organizations manage large projects, increase team accountability, and reduce costs.

A Scrum master is a trained professional who helps organize and scale teams of any size to utilize the Scrum methodology. Becoming a certified Scrum master not only adds credibility; it also makes Scrum masters more sought-after and increases their earning potential.

We review the two best Scrum master certifications—the Certified Scrum Master (CSM) and the Professional Scrum Master (PSM)—and other valuable Scrum certifications, as well as the top training and certification providers for each.

Best Overall: Scrum Alliance

Scrum Alliance

Scrum Alliance

Founded in 2001 by the creators of Scrum, Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber, Scrum Alliance was the first organization to offer a Scrum certification program. This is the Certified Scrum Master (CSM) designation. We choose the CSM offered by Scrum Alliance as the best overall scrum certification because it is one of the most widely recognized certification programs for Scrum masters.

Scrum Alliance focuses its certification training on interactions with certified trainers and coaches, followed by a structured exam. Every CSM graduate of the Scrum Alliance must complete the CSM training program in order to take the certification exam.

Scrum Alliance offers both in-person and online virtual training around the world. Online courses consist of two, eight-hour days and start at $795. In-person training programs are two to three days long and typically start at $1,300, with discounts available for groups. All course fees include the cost of the exam, which can be taken at the end of each course.

Scrum Alliance requires individuals to renew their CSM certification every two years. The fee for renewal is $100. Scrum Alliance requires 20 Scrum Education Units (SEUs) for CSM recertification.

Runner-Up, Best Overall: Scrum.org

Scrum.org

Scrum.org

In 2009, Scrum co-founder Ken Schwaber left Scrum Alliance and founded Scrum.org to provide training that he thought was more consistent with Scrum fundamentals. In the process, he created an alternative to the Certified Scrum Master, called the Professional Scrum Master (PSM). We chose it as our runner-up since it offers Scrum certification recognized second only to Scrum Alliance.

The main difference between Scrum Alliance and Scrum.org is in how each approaches certification. While Scrum Alliance requires individuals to complete Scrum training before taking the certification exam, Scrum.org focuses on the exam itself. The organization is less interested in the type of class or training Scrum Masters receive rather than the knowledge they develop.

Scrum.org offers three levels of PSM certification: PSM I, PSM II, and PSM III. According to the course descriptions, the PSM I certification focuses on an “understanding of how to apply Scrum in Scrum Teams and have a consistent terminology and approach to Scrum.” The PSM II certification focuses on an “understanding of the underlying principles of Scrum and can apply Scrum in complex real-world situations.” The PSM III certification focuses on a “deep understanding of the application and practices of Scrum and the Scrum Values in a variety of complex team and organizational situations.”

Scrum.org doesn’t require individuals to have any training to take the PSM exam. Nevertheless, it does offer Scrum training courses as well. Scrum.org also does not require recertification of its PSM training.

Pricing for the PSM courses is as follows:

PSM I

  • $150 per person
  • 60-minute length

PSM II

  • $250 per person
  • 90-minute length

PSM III

  • $500 per person
  • 120-minute length

Best Interactive Class: Scrum Inc.

Scrum Inc

Scrum Inc

In 2006, Scrum and Scrum Alliance co-founder Jeff Sutherland started Scrum Inc. to get back to teaching CSM courses. Scrum Inc. also offers leadership workshops and other enterprise coaching and consulting services. We chose it as the best interactive class since it focuses on training certification with dynamic and interactive, hands-on exercises.

Scrum Inc.’s Licensed Scrum Master training combines lectures with various games and exercises to give attendees the experience of the Scrum master role first-hand. Class participants organize into Scrum teams and learn how to create and prioritize product backlogs, manage burndown charts, and review real-world case studies across a variety of industries.

There are no prerequisites for Licensed Scrum Master training and all levels of Scrum experience are welcome. Courses start at $1,995 including the exam fees and take place online for three hours a day over four days. Students who successfully complete the course and pass the exam will earn their Licensed Scrum Master credential signed by Jeff Sutherland.

Best Agile Scrum Certification: Project Management Institute

Project Management Institute

Project Management Institute

Founded in 1969, Project Management Institute (PMI) has become a recognized leader in certifying project management professionals and serves more than 2.9 million professionals around the world. We chose it as the best for Agile Scrum certification because it offers eight certifications, including one that particularly enhances the credibility of Scrum masters.

PMI offers an Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) certification that, in addition to providing Scrum master certification, also includes Kanban, extreme programming (XP), Lean, and test-driven development (TDD) and Agile certification. PMI-ACP certification is popular among Scrum masters and employers since it covers several Agile and Scrum practices and principles.

Rather than a simple set of training, PMI-ACP certification has a few prerequisites:

  • Secondary degree and 21 contact hours of training in Agile practices
  • 16 months of general project experience within the last five years. A current Project Management Professional (PMP) or Program Management Professional (PgMP) certification will satisfy this requirement.
  • 12 months of Agile project experience within the last three years

OR

  • Four-year degree (bachelor’s degree or the global equivalent)
  • 12 months of general project experience within the last five years. A current PMP® or PgMP® will satisfy this requirement but is not required to apply for the PMI-ACP.
  • Eight months of Agile project experience within the last three years

The PMI-ACP certification exam has 120 multiple-choice questions and offers three hours to complete it. The exam can be done online.

The cost of PMI-ACP certification is $435 for PMI members and $495 for non-members. PMI membership is $129 per year. Additionally, PMI-ACP certification holders must earn 30 professional development units (PDUs) involving Agile topics every three years to renew the certification. Renewal costs $60 for PMI members and $150 for non-members.

Best for SAFe Scrum Master Certification: Scaled Agile

Scaled Agile

Scaled Agile

Founded in 2011, Scaled Agile was created to provide Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) certification, a framework intended to scale Agile, Lean, and Scrum practices for enterprises. SAFe Scrum Master certification can enhance a Scrum master’s qualifications when looking for placement in an enterprise-level organization. We chose Scaled Agile as the best for SAFe Scrum master certification because it is the gold standard for SAFe training and even developed the framework.

Scaled Agile’s SAFe Scrum Master certification focuses on the fundamentals of team-level Scrum and how to build high-performing Agile teams to deliver the maximum business value at scale. Courses are available onsite or online and start at $799, which includes the cost of the exam. Exams can be retaken if necessary, with each attempt costing and additional $50. SAFe Scrum Master certification holders must renew their certification and complete at least 10 continuing education hours every year. Recertification costs $100.

While there are no prerequisites for the certification, Scaled Agile recommends attendees have familiarity with Agile concepts and principles, an awareness of Scrum, Kanban, and Extreme Programming (XP), and working knowledge of software and hardware development processes. All course attendees get a printed workbook, preparation and eligibility to take the SAFe Scrum Master (SSM) exam, a one-year membership to the SAFe Community Platform, and a certificate of completion. SAFe certification must be renewed every year at a cost of $100.

What Is a Scrum Master Certification?

In addition to providing dedicated training in managing large teams across multiple departments, Scrum master certification shows employers that an individual has the experience and skills to successfully lead Agile teams. The certification also gives the Scrum master an edge over their counterparts and increases their earning potential.

What Does a Scrum Master Certification Include?

CSM and PSM certifications differ in their focus on how certification is delivered. However, both focus on having a Scrum master prove their knowledge and mastery of Scrum principles and practical applications through a rigorous exam.

Note that Scrum master training is separate from a Scrum master exam. CSM training typically takes place in two, eight-hour sessions over two days or three, three-hour sessions over three days. Training is often available online in addition to onsite.

Although Scrum training is required in order to take the CSM exam, there are no prerequisites to take the PSM certification exam. Agile and SAFe Scrum certification prerequisites can be found in the reviews of the Project Management Institute and Scaled Agile.

What Is the Cost of a Scrum Master Certification?

CSM training and certification can cost between $800 to $1,500, which includes the cost of the exam. Individuals are required to get recertified every two years with a $100 recertification fee. In addition to the fee, Scrum Alliance requires 20 SEUs for CSM recertification. Fortunately, there are many free ways to earn SEUs. 

PSM certification through Scrum.org costs $150 for PSM I certification, $250 for PSM II, and $500 for PSM III. PSM certificates require no renewals or continuing education credits.

Renewal costs and requirements for the PMI-ACP and SAFe Scrum master certifications can be found in the reviews of the Project Management Institute and Scaled Agile above.

How Much Do Scrum Masters Earn?

Scrum masters in the United States earn an average of $97,000 annually, with most salaries ranging from $78,000 to $132,000. By comparison, a conventional project manager with no certification earns an average of $75,000 annually, with salaries ranging from $57,000 to $99,000.

Is Becoming a Certified Scrum Master Worth It?

As more and more companies are adopting Agile and Scrum methodology for project management, the demand for trained and experienced Scrum masters is growing. Due to their training in specific proven methodologies, Scrum masters provide expertise beyond that of conventional project managers.

No amount of training can substitute hands-on experience, but certification adds an extra layer of credibility and professionalism to a Scrum master’s experience and makes him or her more desirable to potential employers.

How We Chose the Best Scrum Master Certifications

While there are many organizations that offer Scrum master training, there are only a handful that offer certification. We reviewed the providers of the most sought-after and recognized Scrum certifications and broke down the cost, requirements, and attendance options for each.

Article Sources

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