What Scrum Certification should I take?

This is a question I have heard a few times in my career. This question is also from people from various walks of the system. I have had these questions come from developers. Project Managers and Business Analysts and QA Engineers. So I often try helping with a counter question

“Why do you need a Certification?”

This question often takes me through some interesting learning experience. Here are a few responses I get

  • I get a blank stare like I asked them a question I should not have asked.
  • They look at me like I don’t understand why people take certifications.
  • Some people say they just want to learn more about Agile.
  • Some say better prospects.

I take time to converse with them irrespective of how they respond. It is important to me as an agile practitioner, especially when my purpose is to bridge the gap between certification and execution.

Here I will try briefly explaining a bit into the various roles and certifications. There are a several different bodies that offer the Scrum certifications; some more popular than the others. You have Scrum Alliance and Scrum.org. which are the most popular ones from the professional support and they have been there for a while. I believe they are also the costlier lot. You also have several other certification. And I think if you want to get started, that also should help you. But the question you need to answer is –

“Why do you need a Certification?”

Every Certification body has their own way of representing their certification values, but I often like to see the certifications from three major Scrum roles.

The Product Owner, The Scrum Master and the Team Member. I would say four roles if you add the Agile Scrum Coach. But for being a coach you need much more than just a certification. It is about continuous practice and learning, thinking and findings.

If your role has been more closely on working with business and that is how you want to continue, I would recommend the Scrum Product Owner Certification. This would help you understand how you can take ownership of building a product ground up in the Agile way. On how you can prioritize features and functionalities and have that big picture distilled down to releasable chunks as they all connect to a full fledged product by time-boxing those chunks.

Now if you are a developer or QA Engineer and would like to take up Agile I would recommend taking certifications that are tailored to developers or team members. You need to get good at understanding the estimation methods and be able to commit what you can deliver and understand the concepts of continuous improvement, integration and the tools associated with it. You also need to have a firm understanding on the roles and responsibilities of other Agile roles. This will help you be a better team player.

But if your interest to be a Scrum Master then you should go ahead and move towards the Scrum Master route. The only suggestion is you should not facilitate with the developer hat on which will impede you to perform as a Scrum Master. The point is you should not try to tell your team what to do based on your previous development experience. You got to make the career path you want to make.

But if you are currently in a Project Management or Program Management role or planning to get into that, a Scrum Master Certification is definitely going to be the route and can give you that edge because understanding the Agile framework is a must because most companies are using Scrum in one form or the other.

But keep in mind that a Scrum Master and a Project Manager are not the same. You will find it as you transition. You will also find a lot of companies out there who put out job descriptions like Technical PM aka. Scrum Master aka coordinator and so on. They are either not clear on what they want or want to mix a few roles into one ad save money.

You got to be better than the companies in defining what you want to do and what you are good at doing.

I have spend a good amount of time talking to hiring managers and recruiters when they put out a request for a Scrum Master and most time they just say things like

“We want a Scrum Master who can also act as a Technical Project Manager and even write user stories and coach the team and on and on..”

Take time to educate them and you can do that only if you are very clear of your role and here your certification helps. Your Certification gives you that confidence to tell people what is right. Because if you land in a role that even your hiring manager is not clear, you are bound to be unhappy. But yes we all make compromises when the bills wait at the door knocking. Sometimes it is better to enter the job and then change

you got to do your own thinking on your role, your present and your future.

If your goal is to be able to make a team effective so they can deliver better products then you ought to be looking at being a Scrum Master. I am a Scrum Master. I understand the Product owner role very well, but I am not certified in that. I am Certified Scrum Master CSM from Scrum Alliance. For me that was what was offered by my company that time and I took it.

I like the Scrum Master role specifically because of the concept of ‘Servant Leadership’. While many might think this term is something that came out first in the Agile Manifesto, it is not correct.

The phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in “The Servant as Leader”, an essay that he first published in 1970.

In the Traditional Leadership you have power at the top of a Pyramid and servant leadership kind of turns that pyramid upside down and shares the power. The Servant Leader puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform better. Instead of the people working to serve the leader, the leader exists to serve the people. When leaders shift their mindset and serve first, they unlock purpose and ingenuity in those around them, resulting in higher performance and engaged, fulfilled Team members.

In my personal opinion you can reach the Scrum Master role from any point in your career and from any role you are in currently. The need is for you to completely inculcate the core responsibility of a Scrum Master, understand the Agile responsibilities and it is all about understanding the concept of Servant Leadership.

The ability to Coach and facilitate are key to a Scrum Master role along with a thorough understanding of the Scrum Principles. All of these can be learned and practiced on your own but we live in a world where certification acts as the first screening point for many roles. It gives the hiring party a way to filter the candidates they want to talk to.

A certification can get you an entry to talk. Is that your intention to getting a certification? If so then get it, Getting certified is not rocket science, if you are thinking of a certification, then I think (without knowing you) that you can get it with some effort.

Can you do the job well? I don’t know because that has a lot more to it than certification. It depends on your experience, the person you are and your true genuine professional acumen.

Ultimately think about What makes you happy? To steer the Ownership of a Product, To help teams or to build a product. I like to help teams and team members become efficient, effective and predictable. That is why I am a Scrum Master.

After a few years of Scrum Mastery and working with times, I decided to call myself as coach. I did not call myself one until I had 5 years of Scrum Mastery under my belt. But that is just me, it is up to you to feel when you can be ready to call yourself a coach. You can also be a Certified Coach. I am not a certified Coach as I write this. I am still contemplating the need for it personally. I might get it, not sure when.

I understand that being a certified Scrum Coach has a lot of benefits because of the professional group you become part of. It gives you a ton of support and opportunity to enhance your coaching skill. I am not one, not yet.

I have found that over time I have been able to coach and mentor product owners, developers, QA Engineers and Managers by adding value through a 360 degree understanding of the Agile Scrum Methodology and an ongoing thirst for learning. All coupled with a personal agenda of continuous improvement, something I learned when I entered the Agile framework and chose that as my professional trajectory.

My recommendation would be that take a certification with a definite purpose in mind. See if that certification aligns with your professional aspirations and let it give you that entry in the door. But be aware that continuous learning is the key and not one certification after another. Certification should be the means not the end. Keep Learning and Keep improving continuously.

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